Cougars ‘turn frustration into fight’ as BYU beats Portland 95-67

Grad transfer Matt Haarms lead all scorers with 23 points, and never missed a shot.

BYU's Matt Haarms completes a dunk in the second half against Portland on Thursday. The senior scored a game-high 23 points on 9 of 9 shooting.

It’s become somewhat of a recurring theme this season: BYU muddles through a somewhat slow first half, but then adjusts to have a strong second half.

The same happened Thursday night, as the Cougars routed Portland 95-67 in the Marriott Center.

The Cougars (12-3; 3-1 WCC) are well aware of their trend, and they embrace it.

“It’s one of our little tag lines for this team, is we turn frustration into fight,” senior Matt Haarms said. “That’s something we always hear from the coaches and is something coach [Mark] Pope especially really preaches.”

And BYU really thrives under frustration.

The way Haarms sees it, frustration is exciting. It means there’s room for improvement and for the Cougars to continue to work hard.

Pope believes the muddled first halves are not a result of a young team — because the Cougars aren’t that young — but of a team that needs to adjust to “get a feel and a flow for a game.”

Either way, frustration could easily derail a team. So, Pope is proud of the way his team embraces and works through it to get a win.

“One of the strengths we have is we have a lot of pieces,” Pope said. “So, during the course of a game, you kind of get to feel out the pieces. And I think our guys have done a nice job responding in terms we have a lot of pieces to play with, and you kind of finally find the right packages and we’re better. I’ve been proud of that.”

The Cougars outscored the Pilots 58-36 in the second half. A key part of BYU’s offensive performance came from Haarms, who scored a game-high 23 points on 9 of 9 shooting from the field. The senior also stayed perfect from the free throw line (4 of 4), and added six rebounds and three blocks.

Haarms’ performance also included his first made 3-pointer since the Utah State game, Dec. 5.

Senior Alex Barcello, who added 10 points, said he was excited to see Haarms have such a great night, especially because of how great of a teammate Haarms is on the bench and how much energy he brings on the floor.

“It was just unbelievable,” Barcello said. “I was extremely happy. I know all the other guys were extremely happy to see him do so well tonight.”

It also helped that the Cougars made 14 3-pointers on Thursday — the most since making a program record 18 in the season opener against Westminster. While BYU became known as a 3-point shooting team a year prior, this season the Cougars aren’t relying on the long shot.

The Cougars also made a season-high 28 assists. It was a stark contrast from the week prior, when BYU only had six assists at Saint Mary’s and 10 at San Francisco.

“This is just a happy place for our team — it’s the way we love to play,” Pope said. “... If a team is going to make us do it the other way and grind it out, we’ll do it. But when we get to have ball movement, it’s really fun for us. The zone just invites ball movements. The more comfortable we got playing the zone, the better we executed.”

BYU once again showed off its depth. Along with Haarms and Barcello, the Cougars had two more players score in the double digits, with Brandon Averette and Richard Harward each scoring 12 points. Three other Cougars were just one point shy of scoring double digits.

Barcello believes the Cougars depth is fun because any player on the team can have a career night at any time.

“We know as a group we’re really talented,” Barcello said. “We have a high ceiling, but we know we have a lot to learn. And I think that’s what helps us going into games. ... I think the sky’s the limit for this team as we go throughout the season.”