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BYU Basketball’s Winning Streak Began With ‘Heart-To-Heart Talk’

Jan 4, 2023, 2:55 PM | Updated: 3:00 pm
BYU Basketball, Mark Pope, Jaxson Robinson...
BYU basketball turned around the 2022-23 season because of "heart-to-heart" talks after a 5-5 start. (Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)
(Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball is currently on a seven-game winning streak. It’s good for the nation’s 10th-longest active streak after unbeaten squads Purdue, and New Mexico both dropped games.

A month ago, no one probably envisioned this BYU team reeling off seven consecutive wins, with a pair of those victories coming against Power Six opponents in Creighton and Utah. That’s because BYU was at 5-5 and had just lost back-to-back games to South Dakota and UVU.

Seven-game win streak

It’s only the fourth time in BYU’s WCC era (since 2012) that they’ve reeled off seven straight victories. The second seven-game winning streak under BYU coach Mark Pope.

Pope knew all along this season that there would be growing pains for this team. So he flipped the roster to become something greater for the future as they prepare for the Big 12 Conference. But to have those two losses left many wondering what had happened to Pope’s program.

“We lost the South Dakota and UVU games which were two devastating games for us. And after that, we kind of had some heart-to-heart talks that were really honest. Which is super dangerous, I think for a team,” said Pope.

BYU basketball had a 7 a.m. “heart-to-heart” talk

The talks took place at 7 a.m. the following day after the December 7 home loss to Utah Valley. Those conversations were a risky move but one that helped BYU avoid letting the wheels off on their final season in the WCC.

“I’ve actually never done it before where we sat around and we’re like, ‘Hey guys, we’re not very good. We’re just not very good,'” Pope said. “We thought about it a lot and talked about how we’re going to approach that. Then, finally, we just got to the point where we’re like, ‘hey, let’s just be brutally honest.’ I think a lot of locker rooms and for a lot of teams that could have destroyed [the team]. But it didn’t destroy our team.”

Since that early morning heart-to-heart in December, everyone has leaned into their roles. Freshman guard Dallin Hall continues to start, while graduate transfer Rudi Williams provides an instant offensive spark off the bench. In addition, Spencer Johnson returned from a knee injury and has embraced being part of the second unit again.

Johnson was recovering from the injury when the losses to South Dakota and UVU happened. But as someone who has emerged from under-the-radar JUCO transfer to a leader in Mark Pope’s program, that morning after the setback to the Crosstown foe changed the direction of the season.

“We had that heart-to-heart [talk], and it was really good. And we decided that we were going to commit to each other. You can see the results since then,” said Johnson to KSL Sports.

Honesty

A big focus for this year’s team is getting back to having “BLRA,” commonly referred to in Pope’s program as the “Best Locker Room in America.” That went away from BYU last season as they fizzled out to an underwhelming finish in the NIT after climbing to as high as No. 12 in the AP Top 25 polls. Having difficult conversations is a sign that BYU is getting back to the chemistry and locker room that became a staple in Pope’s first two seasons.

“When you spend so much time with your teammates like we do on the road and in practice, you become really close with them. And when you have relationships with people, honesty is number one,” Johnson said. “You have to be honest with each other. I think in order to be successful at a high level, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and you have to be honest with the other guys as well.”

What’s next for BYU basketball?

Pope praises his team for looking in that mirror and getting better from the early season struggles. The fourth-year head coach isn’t entertaining the idea of this seven-game winning streak turning into an NCAA Tournament run or a push at a West Coast Conference championship. BYU will have its hands full this weekend on a Southern California trip to Loyola Marymount and San Diego. but Pope recognizes the improvements in his group.

“Credit to our guy’s man because they have owned it,” Pope said. “We still have a long way to go to become a good team. But in the meantime, they’ve come every day and said, ‘we know who we are and let’s get better.’ They’re still doing that yesterday and today. It’s pretty special. Like it’s actually super fun. It’s a little bit of a new experience for me, but I love it.”

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 Mitch and his BYU basketball coverage on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Basketball’s Winning Streak Began With ‘Heart-To-Heart Talk’