COUGAR TRACKS

BYU Basketball Is Finding Ways To Turn ‘Frustration Into Fight’

Jan 16, 2022, 2:06 AM | Updated: 2:32 am
BYU Basketball - Alex Barcello...
PROVO, UT - DECEMBER 29: Alex Barcello #13 of the Brigham Young Cougars brings the ball up the court against the Westminster Griffins during the first half of their game December 29, 2021 at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball put together an NCAA Tournament-building win by taking down an experienced San Francisco squad. The victory gives BYU a Quad One victory on their team sheet when the NCAA Selection Committee reviews the resume of Mark Pope’s team.

One thing you can’t find on the team sheet or any advanced stat is this BYU’s ability to turn “frustration into fight.”

“Frustration Into Fight”

It’s one of the many motto’s Pope program has, but it’s the one that stands out the most with this 2021-22 group. A team that stands 15-4 overall and 3-1 in West Coast Conference play after facing the toughest three-game stretch the conference has to offer (Saint Mary’s, at Gonzaga, at USF).

“These guys, man. You think about the leadership on this team and their ability to absorb frustration and just keep fighting, and keep fighting and keep fighting. It takes everybody,” said BYU coach Mark Pope who has yet to experience back-to-back losses in his three regular seasons in Provo.

At times, BYU’s Saturday night on the Hilltop appeared destined to finish with Pope’s first string of losses in a regular season. Especially with the foul discrepancy in the first half, the Dons attempted 15 free throws to BYU’s zero. Or the fact that San Francisco was outrebounding BYU.

But BYU’s young frontcourt, which had some big questions to answer after losing Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward to season-ending injuries/heart condition, stepped up in a game they had to win if they aspire to wear the white home uniforms in March Madness.

Caleb [Lohner] didn’t have much of an impact in the first half and the first ten minutes of the second half, but he sure made an impact in the last ten minutes of the second half. Trevin [Knell] made big plays. And how about Atiki Ally Atiki just being up for the fight? He’s a freshman big, and no part of him doesn’t want to engage in the fight; he doesn’t have fear. He just wants to compete and I’m so proud of him. And Fouss.”

Complete team effort

The growing pains that BYU and its young big men have gone through this season should pay big rewards down the road, maybe in March, especially when the Cougars transition into the Big 12 Conference in 2023-24. Pope and his program saw flashes of the rewards as BYU overcame a double-digit deficit to lock up a big win.

“We’re down ten and we’re kind of looking around just talking like, ‘hey, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight,'” said Pope. “This whole idea that we talk about, absorbing frustration and turning frustration into fight, this was an unbelievable example of it. So these are wins that are super inspiring and super special.”

Alex Barcello makes it happen for BYU Basketball

BYU’s frustration turning into a fight is made significantly easier when featuring an All-American guard in Alex Barcello. Pope will never mince words about how much “AB” makes him look better as a coach.

The third-year head coach at BYU has never won a game without Barcello in the lineup. The super-senior guard, who was dubbed college basketball’s best shooter by ESPN’s Jay Bilas earlier in the day, delivered another big performance by scoring a team-high 18 points, pulling down seven rebounds, and dishing out three assists.

“I think it was a great test to our physicality, to our fight. To our willingness to stay together, that’s huge,” said Barcello on the difficult stretch to open WCC play. “When you’re battling adversity and just being able to come off a loss [to Gonzaga] with just a 48-hour turnaround and being able to regroup as a whole, knowing everybody comes out of that game frustrated. But the way we were able to regroup after that, I think it was a huge test. It’s going to be a huge test going forward because we’re trying to win out the rest of the league. But we might battle another adversity, you know, there might come another loss. So the way that we handled it, I think that it was a good test over this last four-game stretch for us.”

Nothing is going to come easy for this BYU team moving forward. But, wins like the one on Saturday night give them a chance to believe they can overcome that frustration and turn it into something special at the season’s end.

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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