Sports

BYU’s loss to the Zags should provide motivation to prepare for Big 12

Mark Pope peeked at the Big 12 basketball shape while barking at No. 2 Gonzaga Thursday night at the Spokane Kennel.

And as good as Gonzaga looked to beat the Cougars by 26 points in a near-flawless performance, the talented Mark Vue still ranks first behind the defending National Champion Baylor, future BYU domestic league captain in the Big 12.

As sophomore Caleb Loner said: The BYU team got kicked out.

Well, he kind of said it that way.

The thing is, the Pope team has played a tough table this year in an effort to build a paper case for the NCAA’s NET ratings, Ken Pomeroy ratings, and other metrics used to get into the NCAA tournament in March. This works.

Losing Gonzaga on the road – even at 26 – doesn’t remove the shine from all that work. But it does provide a wake-up call.

Cougars must get better. The Big 12 has teams playing big, fast, and similar to the Zags. You can have a league record of 0.500 in the Big 12 and make a big jig. Baylor is 15-1, Texas Tech and Texas 13-3, Kansas and West Virginia 13-2.

better? At 14-4, are you getting better?

It should come with better individual performance, some continued recruiting victories, increased size, speed, length, defensive prowess and the maturity of freshman Foussini Traore and Atiki Ali Atke.

Pope’s Cougars play defense very well, as evidenced by what ESPN’s Jay Bilas described as his “battle rocker” victory over St. Mary’s last weekend.

Against the Zags, the BYU defense withered. But you have to take credit for Few’s execution, skill and acumen – it’s impressively tuned the best field goal percentage (69%) of any college team this season.

BYU largely helped this by failing to defend the edge, turning the ball more than 14 times resulting in 28 Zag points, and giving 25 points for the quick break, a point of focus by Team Pope while entering the game.

Credit to Zags.

But in the wake of the big loss down the road, there were positive things to build on.

BYU has struggled at times to score from outside the arc this season. Against the vitriol, the Cougars made 13 three-pointers, four of which were for superstar Alex Barcelo.

The Cougars tied Gonzaga on rebounds with 33. And yes that’s a realization that when Gonzaga shoots close to 70% there isn’t much to own.

Then there is the loner.

No doubt he started this season in a shooting slump. He’s been shooting shots from across the field, dribbling on offensive charges and missing shots from close range.

In this game, Loner took a step forward. He came a little later than he was a year ago when he started slow and then built himself into a WCC striker with a lot of influence in the league. He scored 17 points on a 7 of 10 shot and went 2 of 3 from distance with five rebounds.

If BYU wants to stay near the Zags in the WCC arrangement and go to Las Vegas with a second seed, Pope needs that kind of production from Lohner.

Another factor is the continued development of Traore, a 6-foot-6 player who plays a lot at the post due to the absence of Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward from the season due to health issues.

Against Zags, who have an all-American Drew Timmy and the nation’s #1 high school recruit at 7-1 Chet Holmgren, Traore tied Holmgren for high rebounds in the game with seven rebounds. Traore scored his 23rd block of the season, tying him with Fred Roberts for the 10th most blocks by a freshman in program history.

84 points in a loss was the third highest point production by a Bob team this year. The highest percentage was 97 against Central Methodist and 89 in a win over Webber State.

Bob has little time to worry about all this other than normal progress due to Saturday’s trip to San Francisco for a tip at 9 p.m. The Dons 15-2 and 2-0 in the league match.

Splitting on this trip would go a long way to erasing the embarrassment, albeit a loss most everyone would expect, in Kennel vs Zajs.

Bob has never lost back-to-back league games and BYU is 8-2 in a WCC game at War Memorial Gymnasium, home of the Dons.

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