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BYU Basketball - Mark Pope - Saint Mary's
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BYU Taking Relentless Approach To Prevent Another One And Done In WCC Tournament

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 09: Head coach Mark Pope of the Brigham Young Cougars looks on as his team takes on the Saint Mary's Gaels during the West Coast Conference basketball tournament semifinals at the Orleans Arena on March 9, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Gaels defeated the Cougars 51-50. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – There was speculation on whether BYU basketball would play in the 2021 WCC Tournament or decide to opt-out. Ultimately, the Cougars opted in and are now gearing up for an opportunity to win their first conference tournament title in 20 years.

Last year’s BYU squad was one of the hottest teams in the country coming into Las Vegas for the WCC Tourney. The hot streak came to an abrupt halt after losing 51-50 to Saint Mary’s in their only game of the tourney.

Was the late Monday tip to blame? No time in The Orleans gym? What caused the early exit? And how will BYU change the outcome this time around against Pepperdine (Monday, 10 p.m., ESPN2 & KSL NewsRadio)?

All of those questions are being asked by head coach Mark Pope and his staff. And they’re trying to find answers the only way Pope’s staff knows how to operate.

“We think about this stuff relentlessly all day every day on what could we have done better last year for that team,” said BYU assistant coach Cody Fueger to KSL Sports. “[We ask ourselves] what did that team need last year? It’s the same thing we’re doing this year.”

Being the last team to touch the Orleans Arena floor for the WCC Tournament can be difficult, especially with no practice day the day before. It was a challenge for Dave Rose teams in this tournament. A tourney the Cougars have yet to win since joining the league in 2011.

Mark Pope joked on Friday that BYU might be the only team in the country choosing to play games where you don’t practice or meet the day before. It was a joking tone, but there’s no lie detected in the commentary. Point to another team that’s not practicing and meeting the day before a game. It just doesn’t happen.

The one Monday game BYU has had this year was a sudden schedule change with a home tilt against No. 1 Gonzaga being moved up on a moment’s notice. BYU lost that game and was sluggish in the opening minutes.

Changes to BYU Basketball preparation for 2021 WCC Tourney

To avoid the same struggles they experienced against the Gaels last year and Zags this year; the approach is different in the build-up to Monday’s semifinal showdown with the Waves.

On Saturday, BYU held two-hour-long practices at the Marriott Center Annex at 9:30 a.m. and then 8:30 p.m. to try and remind Pope’s 19-5 squad of an actual game. Now that it’s been over one week since their regular-season finale victory over Saint Mary’s.

Typically, the BYU basketball team would have traveled to Las Vegas on Saturday so coaches and staff could scout their next opponent in person. With the pandemic still looming one year later, the Cougars are holding off on travel until late Sunday night.

After a night in Vegas, BYU will get to The Orleans at 8:30 a.m. (Pacific Time) on Monday to get acclimated with the WCC Tournament’s surroundings. Surroundings that will probably feel the same as they will for the late-night tip against Pepperdine with no fans in the venue.

Even without fans, the magic of March still lies on the hardwoods this time of the year.

“The great thing about these tournaments, and what makes them special is, you only get one shot,” said Pope. “It’s not like you get a bunch of practice rounds at the tournament. You just get one. We’re doing everything we can to anticipate all the hurdles that we’ll face and jump at them. I think we’ll be in a good spot. We’re excited.”

No. 2 BYU vs. No. 3 Pepperdine

2021 WCC Tournament – Semifinal

Monday, March 8th, 2021

Tip: 10 p.m. (MT)

TV: ESPN2

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 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 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.

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