BYU men’s basketball doing some soul searching after two disappointing losses

A few players had a meeting without coaches over the weekend, and the whole team has had ‘emotional’ conversations since.

Provo • Te’Jon Lucas walked into Alex Barcello’s apartment Sunday prepared to figure things out. The BYU men’s basketball team had just lost its second game in a row to a team it should have beaten, and the senior leaders took it upon themselves to meet along with a few other teammates and get to the bottom of any issues.

“Just being 100% honest,” Lucas said of the tone of Sunday’s meeting. “That’s what we need and that’s what we have to do in order to overcome things like this.”

The Cougars (17-6, 5-3 West Coast Conference) lost to Santa Clara and Pacific on the road last week, two teams that are at the bottom half of the conference. The loss to Pacific was especially egregious considering beating BYU marked its first WCC win of the season.

As a result of those two losses, the Cougars didn’t receive a single vote in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll. Last week, they were just 12 votes outside the Top 25.

And it’s not getting any easier for BYU, which faces San Francisco on Thursday and No. 2 Gonzaga on Saturday. Both of those games, which could further sink BYU’s NCAA Tournament résumé if they end up as losses, are at the Marriott Center.

In the past few days, the team has been doing plenty of soul searching, led by players like Barcello and Lucas, but also by coach Mark Pope once the entire team came together to talk.

“We’ve spent the last miserable and really awful and really beautiful last couple of days having really, really hard, really, really over-the-top emotional conversations with each other inside of our team, trying to dig deep,” Pope said.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young guard Alex Barcello (13) scores for the Cougars, in WCC basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the San Diego Toreros, at the Marriott Center, on Thursday, January 20, 2022.

The reason the Cougars can have such meaningful dialogue is because of how close they’ve grown as human beings, Pope said. But that’s not to say there aren’t some bumps in the road along the way in the growth process.

“We’ve grown to kind of care about each other,” Pope said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t get really mad at each other sometimes. It doesn’t mean that there’s not frustration and doesn’t mean that there’s not history that brews up from time to time.”

BYU has just seven games remaining in its regular-season schedule, a stretch Pope called “the championship third of the season.” The Cougars sit fourth in the WCC and 33rd in the NCAA’s NET going into Thursday’s game.

But in order for the Cougars to get back into the thick of the WCC race, they’ll have to perform a basketball autopsy to hopefully figure out what’s gone wrong. Pope said that while film of the two most recent losses revealed a lot of good sequences, he felt there were some issues in transition defense, rebounding and making decisions on offense.

Lucas said the problems lately have been the team not being “dialed in” and “not trusting each other.” He believes, though, that “getting back to the basics” will allow BYU to get back on track.

“I think we’ll be able to come out of this on the right side,” Lucas said. “It’s a good learning point for us.”