BYU kicks off WCC tournament against Loyola Marymount

LAS VEGAS — Although BYU finds itself in the NCAA Tournament bubble ahead of the West Coast Conference Tournament, coach Mark Pope thinks his team has made its case all season long to be invited as a big at the Big Dance.

In other words, Pope doesn’t think the Cougars have to win the WCC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t feel like that at all. Our body of work is really good. I think we have to show well,” he said. “If we win it, we are definitely in the race. What this team has accomplished is quite extraordinary. If you go back to the beginning, what they have done is impressive. But we have to finish. We have to play Vegas really well and see what we can accomplish.

For the No. 5 seed BYU, the playoffs begin Friday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) in the second round of the WCC tournament against No. 8 Loyola Marymount at Orleans Arena.

In a first-round game Thursday night, LMU beat No. 9 Pacific 86-66 to earn the right to face the Cougars.

Against the Tigers, LMU guard Joe Quintana had a career-high 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field and 8-of-10 from 3-point range. Eli Scott had 20 points and eight rebounds while Kwane Marble added 19 points.

This will be the third meeting between the Cougars and the Lions in less than a month. In Los Angeles on Feb. 10, BYU recovered from a 17-point deficit to beat LMU in overtime 83-82. In Provo on Feb. 24, a week ago, BYU beat the Lions 79-59.

LMU coach Stan Johnson and his team are looking forward to another chance with the Cougars.

“It’s a good team. We have to play great defense,” Johnson said. “We can’t let them get off on the right foot.

The Lions are shorthanded and used just seven players Thursday against Pacific. LMU was without injured forward Keli Leaupepe, who scored 26 goals against BYU in the Feb. 10 overtime game.

The winner of Friday’s second-round matchup between BYU and LMU will face No. 4 San Francisco in Saturday’s semifinal in a Quad 1 contest.

Pope said his players are motivated and ready to play their best basketball.

“I think we’re going to ride through this really choppy, really hungry stuff and feel some confidence and conviction,” he said. “You put those four things together and I think that’s exactly how you want your team to go in the conference tournament. I’m super excited about this.

Certainly, the Cougars can improve their NCAA tournament resume in the coming days at Orleans Arena.

Pope said the preparation of two teams before Thursday would not be much different from a normal week.

“We try to combine a lot of concepts. You are trying to solidify some defensive concepts. … It’s not entirely unheard of,” he said earlier this week. “We do the same with these two teams. We have the chance the next evening to know against whom we will play. You put these three teams in a mess and you say, “Where is the commonality? Can we extend this common ground a little more? That’s how we approach it. »

Pope is proud of what his players have achieved so far.

“These guys have worked so hard to get here. They’ve put themselves in an incredible situation where if we’re going to perform well, we have a chance to earn ourselves another shot at playing on the biggest stage in college basketball,” he said. “There are a lot of teams that didn’t win this opportunity. We have. We just have to go grab it. The pressure behind this has been hard earned.

As if BYU doesn’t have enough motivation, they want to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament for their two senior guards – Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas.

“It’s huge. We talked a lot about their last chance. Some of us will have more chances, but for them, that’s it,” said junior guard Spencer Johnson. March Madness after this year. It is a motivation in itself. It’s do or die for them.

Junior Seneca Knight, who suffered a thumb injury against Saint Mary’s on Feb. 19, was ruled out of the Cougars’ final two games of the regular season.

Its status is uncertain.

” He is fine. He pulled a bit (Monday and Tuesday),” Pope said. “It will be day to day.”

Pope is certain of the kind of attitude his team will bring to the WCC tournament.

“We are super excited to go play on Friday. You always try to read the locker room and feel the spirit of your guys and where they are,” Pope said. “Right now, I think we’re excited. We believe our best basketball is ahead of us. … The guys recognize the challenge ahead of us. They are respectful of how difficult this is going to be. I just think right now these guys are looking forward to playing. If we can keep fostering that, we’ll give ourselves the best possible chance of doing some real damage. This is what you want.”

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