LA VEGAS – BYU basketball will have a Friday night opponent they have become familiar with over the past few weeks. Loyola Marymount will be BYU’s first opposition in their quest for a WCC tournament title (7 p.m., BYUtv and KSL NewsRadio).
The Lions beat Pacific, 86-66 in the first round of the league tournament on Thursday night. Friday’s second-round meeting will mark the third time BYU and LMU will meet in the past 22 days.
BYU Basketball draws LMU
BYU (21-9, 9-6 WCC) won both games against the Lions. The season opener on Feb. 10 saw LMU hold a 17-point lead over BYU, but the Cougars stormed back in short order to ultimately earn an 83-82 overtime win.
BYU picked up a 20-point win at Provo on Feb. 24. Now comes the neutral-court game in Las Vegas, where BYU teams led by Mark Pope are 1-2 on aggregate in WCC tournaments since Pope took over as head coach.
In this game, all eyes will be on BYU as the Cougars look to improve their overall NCAA Tournament case. A loss would be catastrophic; a win would set the stage for BYU to have a Quad 1 opportunity against San Francisco on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
“It’s do or die. You eventually get to a point where you win or go home, don’t you,” said BYU coach Mark Pope. “Like the playoffs in all sports; the win or go home offer is really fun and it’s where you make your mark, it’s where you will be remembered forever.
BYU enters the WCC tournament with some momentum having won four of its last five games, with the only loss coming on the road in a competitive five-point loss on the road to Saint Mary’s.
First-team All-WCC interpreter Alex Barcello is BYU’s frontman. Barcello has proven to be one of the best marksmen in the country, despite facing double teams every night. If Barcello gets space, look for him to have a great night offensively. But ideally, for Barcello, their supporting cast have a performance like when they last met LMU.
Will BYU’s supporting cast grow further?
In the Feb. 24 meeting, four of BYU’s five starters scored in double digits. The only one that wasn’t Barcello. If this BYU basketball team gets contributions like that from Caleb Lohner Gideon George again, it makes BYU one of the toughest exits in this deeper-than-usual WCC tournament.
This will be the first playoff opportunity for the young BYU star in the frontcourt of rookie Fousseyni Traore. The Mali native was named an All-WCC Freshman Team selection this week, and it was well deserved as he piled up four WCC Freshman of the Week honors at a conference that features top dandy layers of the country to Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga.
Traore and the BYU greats may not have to face LMU’s best frontcourt player in Keli Leaupepe. The man with the best mullet in college basketball didn’t play in Thursday night’s win over Pacific. It was the third game in a row where he was ruled out with an undisclosed injury.
BYU has an injury of its own that continues to be an “everyday” situation with starting forward Seneca Knight. Knight did not practice Tuesday. If he’s unable to go, expect a BYU starting lineup that would include Barcello, Lucas, George, Lohner and Traore.
You can listen to BYU’s run in the WCC Tournament on Cougars Legacy, KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM and 1160 AM).
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.