Basketball

BYU basketball: Fousseyni Traore steps up BYU’s WCC tournament win

BYU basketball: Fousseyni Traore steps up BYU's WCC tournament win

Is Fousseyni Traoré BYU’s baby Charles Barkley?

On the way to what amounts to an NCAA qualifying game against San Francisco, BYU beat LMU for the third time this season, this time 85-60.

But more importantly, Mark Pope gets some consistency from his squad. Despite being an underdog against the higher-seeded Dons, Pope has hope with the increased confidence in what is now a three-game winning streak.

You have to admire what he has in the Traore freshman center.

He is only 6ft 6in tall and barely old enough to drive.

Still, it was fun to watch Traore take on LMU senior Eli Scott on Friday night.

Scott is also 6ft 6in and LMU loves posting him inside as he is so strong and effective at moving people around. He has a broad body, quick feet, and is built like a Marvel Comic mini-Hulk.

On Friday, LMU viewed Scott as their primary offensive weapon.

In this game, Traoré and Scott went there in the paint. Scott got his points, but Traore was hugely impressive against the much more mature and physically experienced LMU striker.

Traore almost doubled Scott in rebounds.

Scott finished with 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting with a team-best six rebounds in 32 minutes.

Traore had 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor and 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes. He had 40 points and 25 rebounds in the last two games.

“I don’t think he knows how good he is,” senior BYU star Alex Barcello said of Traore after the game.

At 3:14 into the first half, Scott posted Traore and began to back up freshman Cougar. Scott made his spinning move, got up to shoot and Traoré hit him.

Traore had two thunderous ducks in the opening 22 minutes, both heading in from the top of the rim.

What Pope must love about Traore is that he is still in his infancy as a basketball player, although he had a solid career at Wasatch Academy before coming to Provo.

You should note the parallel bouncing universe he works against with teammate Caleb Lohner.

In Lohner, Pope has an extremely gifted athlete with a body made to bounce back. He is two inches taller than Traore and has quick jumps.

A year ago as a rookie, Lohner led BYU in rebounding with just over seven per game. This on a team with 7-foot-3 center Matt Haarms, who had five rebounds per game.

So, in theory, Lohner is a stud inside the paint when it comes to rebounding. In BYU’s win over LMU, he had just 6 points on 3 of 4 shooting and brought down 10 rebounds.

Traore entered Friday’s game against LMU, leading the Cougars to rebound with just over eight per game, averaging a minute more per game than Lohner because he was forced to play the position in the absence of Richard Harvard and Gavin Baxter, injured.

On the home stretch this season, Traore and Lohner have had their share of battles for the same rebound, battling against each other. This happened multiple times on Friday night when both were in the right position.

Lohner is a better rebounder out of his zone with his speed. Traore is better inside most of the time because he has some kind of extra seven or eight inch ghost at the top of his jump height.

Time and again, Traore simply reaches for the top of outstretched hands and soaks up missed shots with a one-handed vise.

Traore will finish the season as the third-best freshman rebounder of all time behind Yoeli Childs and Shawn Bradley.

His six offensive rebounds against LMU tied him for sixth all-time by a freshman in a single game.

Lohner, who finished with 10 rebounds, has three straight double-digit rebounds in postseason games after Friday’s performance.

The Cougars face a much more talented and bigger team in San Francisco on Saturday night. The Dons are a 26th ranked team in the NET, a strong Quad 1 opponent. The Cougars parted ways with San Francisco during the regular season. The winner will face No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Monday.

Saturday is great.

BYU will need more of that Traore/Lohner turmoil that has surfaced for the past two weeks.

It will take that and many more witness fights when these two teams last meet.