Orem • Long after the No. 12 BYU men’s basketball team lost to the Utah Valley Wolverines in a 72-65 upset, the UCCU Center was still abuzz with triumph. “I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas blared as fans in green UVU T-shirts lingered on the court.
But the feeling was somber in the bowels of the area as Cougars coach Mark Pope addressed the media. The team lost center Gavin Baxter to a torn ACL, which marks a third season-ending injury for him.
Pope said losing Baxter wasn’t why the team lost Wednesday night, but the situation highlighted that BYU is dealing with health issues. Some players have been limited in practice lately because a cold has been going around the team. Richard Harward has yet to play due to a cardiovascular issue. Gideon George did not play against UVU.
Health is now such an issue for the Cougars that Pope sent his players home immediately after the final buzzer sounded. The Cougars go on the road Saturday to play Missouri State, which may not leave much time for full recovery.
“That’s why I rushed them out of here,” Pope said. “I need to get them home and showered and rested and [getting] fluids.”
The Cougars on Wednesday faced a raucous crowd. They faced a scrappy Utah Valley squad that just wouldn’t go away. They gave up a lead, then came back from a deficit to force five extra minutes.
BYU (6-1) had the opportunity to win in regulation, but the Wolverines (7-1) made all the clutch plays down the stretch to grab the upset. Utah Valley went on a 10-0 run in overtime to secure the win.
“It was a lot of us fouling just trying to kind of stay in the game as the clock dwindled,” Pope said of UVU’s overtime run. “They made some good plays.”
Throughout overtime, both BYU and UVU had a timeout to burn, but Pope opted not use it even as the game started to slip away. He said it’s difficult to take a timeout in an overtime time when the hope is to stay within striking distance and if the timeout is used, it’s a “meaningful” one.
“Clearly we should’ve used it,” Pope said.
Cougars guard Alex Barcello led the team with 17 points, but went 6-for-16 to get there. It was another game in which BYU’s best player struggled to find a rhythm offensively.
“We’re going to do better when the rest of the team is functioning at a higher level,” Pope said when asked what can be done to get Barcello better opportunities. “And we will.”
UVU center Fardaws Aimaq scored 24 points and added 22 rebounds, three blocks and five steals. Guard Justin had 24 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
Pope also said the team will have to “get better a new way” due to what he described as “the new roster that we have.”
“We’re going to have to change some things,” Pope said.
The loss will almost certainly adversely affect BYU’s ranking in the Associated Press Top 25. But Pope did make sure to credit his team’s effort in a game that was physical throughout.
“We just weren’t great tonight,” Pope said. “For them to hang in there, and hang in there, and hang in there, and hang in there, I was super proud of them.”