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BYU men’s basketball set for matchup with San Francisco in WCC Tournament quarterfinals

The Cougars advanced by beating Loyola Marymount, 85-60

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young guard Alex Barcello (13) leads a fast break for the Cougars, in WCC basketball action at the Marriott Center in Provo, on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.

Las Vegas • Alex Barcello and BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe met briefly after the senior guard finished a television interview moments removed from the BYU men’s basketball team beating Loyola Marymount. Barcello laughed genuinely as the two men who have become prominent figures in the university’s athletic department parted ways for the evening.

Barcello, later seated next to freshman Fousseyni Traore and coach Mark Pope, said the theme of the exchange between he and Holmoe was simply, “Keep winning.”

“This is my last go-round,” said Barcello, who scored 22 points in BYU’s 85-60 win over the Lions in the Orleans Arena. “I don’t want to go home. I want to advance as far as we can and bring championships to Provo. I think he’s right on board with that and I think these guys are right on board with that, too.”

BYU’s blowout over LMU on Friday was its third win in as many games over the Lions this season. While the first one was a close overtime victory, the other two have been relatively easy wins by double digits.

But going into the team’s first game of the West Coast Conference Tournament, the Cougars needed a statement win. Sure, they finished the regular season with blowout wins over LMU and Pepperdine, respectively. But some some thought BYU may not make it past the quarterfinal round against San Francisco.

Then BYU put together a performance that looked much more like the team that won seven of eight games from late December to late January. Shots fell. The ball whipped around. The defense clicked.

“It’s go time,” Traore said.

Aside from his scoring, Barcello also added three assists and three rebounds in just 26 minutes. Traore had 15 points and 11 rebounds, while junior Trevin Knell scored 15 points.

It was the first time Knell scored in double figures since a Jan 6 win over Pacific.

Now the Cougars will face San Francisco on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. If BYU can pull off an upset, its NCAA Tournament chances would go up in a big way due to USF’s No. 26 ranking in the NET. That game is considered a Quad 1 contest.

“It’s March. It’s win or go home,” Barcello said. “We have to lay it out there every time we step on the floor. ... It’s a huge opportunity for us [Saturday], but we’re coming in with the same mindset.”

That mindset is one of “edge,” a word Barcello repeated many times during this postgame comments. But San Francisco is a fundamentally different team compared to the Lions. The Dons have more size than the Cougars, have excellent guard play and boast a 23-8 overall record.

The last time BYU played San Francisco, the Cougars got blown out on their home floor.

Pope insisted that every postseason game warrants an elite level of edge. But he acknowledged that, even with a short turnaround ahead of them, the Cougars will need the highest level of intensity possible if they want to win.

“We have to come with more fight and fire than we’ve ever had [Saturday],” Pope said. “If we can make it through [Saturday], then the challenge is even bigger and [we’ll need] more fight and more fire on Monday.”