BYU forward Trevin Knell barely let the question finish before he interjected with an answer.
The junior was asked about some of BYU’s recent close calls against bottom 150 teams. Playing for a program fighting for seeding in the NCAA Tournament, Knell had clearly thought about the importance of these games. He didn’t want a close game, or a potential loss against a poorly ranked team, to be the reason why BYU would be on the bubble come March.
“We got to start putting some teams away,” Knell said last Tuesday, a message that only became more salient once BYU lost on a buzzer-beater to Santa Clara on Thursday.
Instead of BYU heeding Knell’s words, though, it played into his worst fears on Saturday. BYU lost to Pacific 76-73, the first Quad Four loss in the Mark Pope era.
A team that hadn’t won a conference game in 336 days and had lost seven straight, methodically downed BYU in the second half. It is exactly the type of loss in March that can come back to hurt a tournament resume that has shown some cracks of late.
“It’s a really disappointing weekend,” said Pope, who stared at Pacific’s celebration in disbelief after going through the handshake line. “I wasn’t too pleased with the fact that we let them shoot the ball so well. You give credit to them and also it’s a real issue for us.”
If it wasn’t for a 9-0 BYU run with under two minutes to play, the loss would have looked much worse than even Pope described.
Despite only losing by three, Pacific was in command for much of the second half. It led for 25 minutes and went up by as many as 13 points with three minutes left. Three players from Pacific scored over 15 points compared to just one for BYU.
Every time BYU tried to get back into the game, mistakes would get in the way. The Cougars had 13 turnovers, close to a season-high. At one point, BYU had the game within two with 12 seconds to play, but Alex Barcello turned the ball over and the comeback was stymied.
“I got to do a better job. It’s pretty simple,” Pope said. “It’s a bad road trip for the coach and I got to do better for these guys.”
There really isn’t any other way to put it. Pacific came into the game ranked No. 267 in KenPom. It averaged a conference-low 61 points per game. Yet it was BYU who had the issues on offense for the majority of the night.
Barcello had 19 points. Te’Jon Lucas added 13. But overall the Cougars had multiple spells of four minutes where it did not score. In those times, Pacific pushed its lead to double-digits.
Going forward, BYU will have San Francisco and Gonzaga coming to Provo next week, two teams near the top of the WCC.
This week was supposed to be the lighter part of the conference slate — padding for a tournament resume. Instead it amounted to back-to-back losses in the regular season for the first time in three years.
The questions ahead will be about lineup tweaks and other issues. Pope evaded those questions. But he does know something has to change before March.
“Listen, this is a really good team. I got to do better. I will and we will move forward to have great success,” Pope finished.