COUGAR TRACKS

Three Observations From BYU’s Gritty Win Over USF In Diamond Head Classic

Dec 22, 2021, 11:04 PM
BYU Basketball - Gideon George - Seneca Knight...
HONOLULU, HI - DECEMBER 22: Corey Walker Jr. #15 of the South Florida Bulls battles with Gideon George #5 and Seneca Knight #24 of the BYU Cougars during a free throw attempt during the 2021 Diamond Head Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center on December 22, 2021 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball got the game they expected from the South Florida Bulls. It was a tough, grind-it-out, defensive-minded game that BYU proved they were willing to play and play at a high level.

BYU took down the sub-.500 USF Bulls in the Quarterfinals of the Diamond Head Classic on Wednesday, 54-39. With the win, BYU improves to 10-2 on the season. An impressive mark considering how many personnel hits the team has had due to injuries. Plus, they’ve faced one of the most demanding non-conference schedules in the country.

But BYU isn’t satisfied to be at ten wins. Instead, they want their first MTE (Multi-Team Event) title since 2010 and get better every day.

Here are three observations from BYU’s 54-39 win over the Bulls from the American Athletic Conference.

#1 BYU pulled away with Alex Barcello on the bench

Senior guard Alex Barcello found himself in a rare situation, foul trouble. The Honorable Mention All-American had four fouls with six minutes to go in the game, and BYU had a single-digit lead.

You would think that would be a sound the alarms moment for BYU, but other players rose to the occasion, such as Gideon George, who knocked down a season-high three 3-pointers.

“Well, sometimes those things are a gift,” said BYU coach Mark Pope. “We saved Alex’s legs a little bit. You know there’s going to be different guys every single night. That’s the great thing about having a team is different guys step up and it different guys finish games, and we certainly saw that tonight.”

In a tournament that will have three games in four days, giving Barcello that extra rest can only serve BYU well as they try to secure their first MTE title ever played in the state of Hawaii.

Barcello finished 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting and two assists in 28 minutes of action.

#2 Excellent performance from BYU’s frontcourt

The BYU frontcourt has been tested with Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward out for the season. Those season-ending setbacks have forced Atiki Ally Atiki and Fousseyni Traore to have a baptism by fire, but it can only BYU down the road when March rolls around.

Ally Atiki pulled down a career-high five rebounds in 14 minutes of action in the second start of his career. From learning the English language to getting up to speed with organized basketball, as he had only played in 28 organized games before BYU, these are valuable opportunities for the 6-foot-9 big man from Tanzania.

Along with Atiki, Fousseyni Traore continues to be a star freshman for the Cougars.

Traore scored 11 points and pulled down nine rebounds off the bench in the win. His feel and touch around the basket come off like a seasoned veteran. There have been stretches in this non-conference season where Traore has looked like a freshman, but the impact he has made already, you can’t help but think he’s going to be an essential cornerstone for when BYU arrives in the Big 12 in a few years.

#3 Caleb Lohner is one of the greatest rebounders in BYU history

There aren’t many players in BYU basketball history who rebound the ball like Caleb Lohner. Lohner, who, because of Atiki sliding in at the five spot in the starting lineup, is back at the cozy confines of power forward position, had a career-high night on the glass, pulling down 14 rebounds.

Lohner has struggled to hit shots this season at the clip he did last year in conference play. It will eventually come. But what never leaves Lohner’s play is his intensity on the glass and the little things he does to impact a ball game.

Lohner made an extra pass in the sluggish first half to find a wide-open Barcello for a corner three. The little things are his specialty. Once his shot starts to fall, watch out.

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.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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