BYU hoops still working out kinks, but has found its identity, resiliency

Coach Pope pleased with how his Cougars bounced back from their lone loss this season.

BYU forward Matt Haarms (3) celebrates next to Utah State center Neemias Queta (23) after BYU's win in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP, Pool)

For two consecutive weeks, BYU found itself playing three games, with two of those on back-to-back days. It was a taxing way to start the season, but it also served as a way for the team to learn about itself.

And BYU coach Mark Pope saw and learned a lot.

He learned they have to get much better, but also saw his team go up against a variety of different defensive schemes. Most importantly, Pope saw his team respond to a “really, really disappointing and frustrating and embarrassing performance” last week.

“You always have to make a choice whether you’re going to respond with unlimited fight or you’re going to kind of crumble at some point,” Pope said. “And these guys responded with a ton of fight. I’m not sure if we played a lot better, but we fought a lot harder and a lot longer. And that’s super rewarding.”

Seeing the way his team responded to the embarrassing loss to USC at the Roman Legends Classic has led Pope to become even more confident in his team.

Through six games, the Cougars have a 5-1 record. Now, BYU will start getting into the rhythm of playing a somewhat normal schedule, only taking on up to two opponents a week. But this week still has its challenges; the Cougars are facing Boise State and Utah at home Wednesday and Saturday.

Either way, the Cougars are up for the battle. So far, through six games, the team shows great resiliency, Pope and players said.

“We have a lot of stuff to get better at, but I love the fight that this team has,” senior guard Brandon Averrette said. “And we’re just competing no matter what is thrown at us. I mean, we’ve had some up and down moments this year already. I know it’s kind of early, but the way we’ve been able to battle and fight and still be able to win has been very impressive in my opinion.”


At the Marriott Center

When • Wednesday, 7 p.m.

TV • BYUtv

Offensively, the Cougars are still finding themselves. The five wins have all come fairly differently.

In the season opener, fans saw a flashback to the BYU squad of last year as the Cougars made a program-tying 18 3-pointers on the way to blowing out Westminster 108-59. The next day, BYU and New Orleans combined for 51 fouls and 53 total free throws, seriously impacting the flow of the game.

The Cougars had a slow start before shaking off New Orleans — the same thing that happened against Utah Valley.

Last week, after losing to USC, BYU had some close games, grinding out wins against St. John’s and Utah State.

Sophomore guard Trevin Knell believes the team still needs some time to really find its offensive identity. After all, there’s still a lot to develop and learn from having new guys come in and guys step into new roles.

“This team is super talented,” Knell said. “We are learning to play with each other a little bit more, learning to have better chemistry.”

While there are plenty differences this year, BYU is still carrying over a practice Pope instilled last year — to not look ahead.

And that’s important whether the Cougars are playing three games in a week or just two. The team looks at it as the next game is the hardest game, Knell said.

“We have to be able to come out, play as a team and show our toughness,” Knell said. “Because every game, for any team, there’s going to be frustration, but we just need to be patient with ourselves and turn that frustration into fight.”

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