No. 23 BYU ended its season earlier than it would have liked, but hopes to transfer success to next year

The sixth-seeded Cougars fell to the 11th-seeded UCLA Bruins in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

BYU guard Brandon Averette (4) reaches for a rebound with UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba (14) and BYU forward Caleb Lohner, second from left, and BYU forward Matt Haarms (3) during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

It wasn’t the way they would have hoped to go out, and BYU’s season came to an end sooner than it would have liked.

At the end of the day, UCLA wanted it more and played better to eliminate sixth-seeded BYU from the NCAA Tournament in the first round, beating the Cougars 73-62 in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

BYU coach Mark Pope generally always finds something to take away from a loss, but following Saturday’s heartbreaker, the second-year coach said he wasn’t in any position to start doing that yet.

“I mean, we’ll piece away the basketball stuff,” Pope said. “It’s just hard to do that right now with what I got in that locker room right now — a bunch of dudes that are brokenhearted and I think, as much as anything, just devastated that they don’t get to play together again.”

Pope said he’d take care of his athletes first, before looking at how to move on from the loss and end of season.

“It doesn’t come by accident, when you work as hard as these guys do to forge the bond that they have with one another, it is devastating to know that you’re not going to be in a locker room together again in the same forum,” Pope said. “So, I’m not sure about the basketball stuff. We’ve got to deal with our guys first.”

The Cougars finished their season with a 20-7 overall record, and 10-3 West Coast Conference record.

BYU, which finished second in the WCC, had a few big wins this year, over St. John’s, Utah State, San Diego State, Saint Mary’s and San Francisco.

BYU managed to establish itself in the paint, while still having a stable perimeter offensive attack most games, but struggled the whole year in turnovers. The Cougars averaged 13.2 turnovers and more often than not lost the turnover margin against opponents.

On Saturday, the Cougars committed 10 turnovers, which the Bruins converted into 11 points.

BYU was led by its three seniors: Alex Barcello, Brandon Averette and Matt Haarms. In a year unlike any other, all three seniors also happened to be transfers.

Barcello was the first to arrive in Provo, when he transferred from Arizona two years ago. Averette and Haarms joined the Cougars last year from Utah Valley and Purdue, respectively.

Pope considered each one of his seniors a “gift.”

“For anybody that’s managing or leading or coaching any organization, to have three extraordinary young men like Matt Haarms and Brandon Averette and Alex Barcello leading — what they did on the court is incredibly impressive,” Pope said. “What they accomplished this year is incredibly impressive. Their numbers are all super impressive.”

Although the NCAA placed a blanket waiver on eligibility this year due to the pandemic, the three seniors had previously said they still planned to leave BYU after this season. It’s unclear if Saturday’s outcome could change any of their minds to come back for one more year.

Either way, after the game, Pope had no message for his players to help make it better.

Still, the Cougars finished with a 20-plus-win season for a second consecutive year and returned to the NCAA Tournament with a No. 23 national ranking.

Pope is proud of the “extraordinary things” his team accomplished, but is more proud of the camaraderie his players built and how they really fought for each other this season.

“They came every single night and every single day in practice ready to go,” Pope said. “They took an eclectic collection of guys from all over, with all different backgrounds, they came together and forged a special team. What these guys did that is so spectacular nobody is going to understand — I’ll keep saying it, but nobody is going to understand — is these guys formed a relationship, the likes of which you rarely have in your life,” Pope added.

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