When the BYU men’s basketball team learned it was headed to the National Invitation Tournament instead of the NCAA Tournament like it wanted, coach Mark Pope said all the right things.
He said the team was excited his competitive group had the opportunity to play more games. He said the Cougars had a chance to make history by hanging up an NIT championship banner, something BYU last did in 1966.
But after the first game of the tournament, Pope and sophomore forward Caleb Lohner admitted that the team had to muster up the motivation to care. That there was a hangover from the emotional letdown of not making the Big Dance.
How to watch BYU vs. Washington State
Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Radio: BYU Sports Network, BYU Radio Sirius XM 143/89.1 FM HD2, KSL 102.7 FM/1160 AM
Ironically, as the Cougars are set to host Washington State on Wednesday in the NIT quarterfinals, every member of the team has seemingly started to get some value out of competing in a tournament they didn’t even really want to be in.
“There’s a chance that I get to learn something from coaching in the NIT, too,” Pope said after BYU beat Northern Iowa to advance to the quarterfinals.
Pope said the team might be playing a bit more loosely right now as opposed to the final two months of the regular season, when every game felt like a must-win due to BYU’s status on the NCAA Tournament bubble. He added that playing more loosely can be something he preaches more going forward.
Additionally, with guard Alex Barcello definitely graduating after this season, Pope has been encouraged by the recent play of his role players — namely Gideon George and Lohner. The pair have scored a combined 71 points in the last two wins alone.
“It’s really meaningful to me that our best two players the last two games have been Gideon George and Caleb Lohner,” Pope said. “That is BYU basketball’s future — a big chunk of it.”
With a win on Wednesday, the Cougars will head to New York City for the semifinal and possibly final found of the NIT at Madison Square Garden.
• Gideon George was in his bag in the NIT win over Northern Iowa.
• Women’s basketball’s NCAA Tournament run ended earlier than expected.
• Chris Brooks, a Cal transfer, is bringing stability to BYU’s running back room.
• Former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill gets his contract restructured, via KSL Sports.
• UVU center Fardaws Aimaq is in the transfer portal, via Deseret News.