BYU basketball: What challenges await BYU vs. Lavin-led San Diego
SAN DIEGO — Even before the 2022-23 season tipped off, BYU coach Mark Pope predicted that his young team’s final season in the West Coast Conference would be “an adventure.”
“We’re growing. We’ve got a lot more growing to do. We know that. We can still get a lot better. That’s going to be a part of the process that we’re working through all year long.” — BYU coach Mark Pope
Hey was right.
The campaign has featured gut-wrenching lows (losses to South Dakota and Utah Valley University); thrilling highs (a big comeback victory against Dayton in The Bahamas; wins over then-No. 21 Creighton and arch-rival Utah); and a key injury (guard Spencer Johnson was sidelined for more than a month).
Thursday, the Cougars (12-6, 2-1) saw their seven-game winning streak end at Loyola Marymount, which earned a 64-59 victory at Gersten Pavilion.
Afterward, Pope put the past month into perspective.
“We’re growing. We’ve got a lot more growing to do. We know that,” he said. “We can still get a lot better. That’s going to be a part of the process that we’re working through all year long.”
Next up for BYU is another road game at San Diego on Saturday (6 pm MST, WatchStadium.com).
“I’m excited about Saturday and I’m excited about us having a chance to go play tougher and more physical and more disciplined,” Pope said.
The toreros are led by first-year head coach Steve Lavin, formerly the head coach at St. John’s and UCLA. He was also a college basketball broadcaster for Fox Sports, CBS Sports, ESPN, ABC and the Pac-12 Network.
While coaching the Bruins, Lavin compiled a 10-1 record in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Lavin holds the all-time record for most victories in the NCAA second round without a loss (5-0).
In 2000-01, he was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year. Lavin was one of only two coaches in the country, along with Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, to reach the Sweet 16 five times in six seasons.
“He’s been in the business for a long time and obviously he’s won at the highest level. It was a great hire by San Diego,” Pope said of Lavin. “He’s going to do an incredible job there. He’s already recruited really, really well. Their talent level has taken a massive step forward. They’re new and they’re trying to figure some things out and they’ve had some huge wins and they’ve had some losses they’re not happy about. He’s a big-time coach.”
What was former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s reaction to Lavin getting this job last spring?
“What an excellent hire for San Diego! Steve Lavin has made a real difference in basketball, particularly for the young men who’ve called him ‘Coach’ over the years as an assistant at Purdue and as a head coach at UCLA and St. John’s,” he said. “Considering Steve’s previous record of success at high major institutions, his pedigree, and considerable coaching acumen, look for San Diego to take a big step forward within the West Coast Conference.”
San Diego guard Jase Townsend drives during game against Saint Mary’s Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in San Diego. The Denver transfer is the toreros leading scorer this season.
Gregory Bull, Associated Press
Denver transfer guard Jase Townsend leads the Toreros in scoring, averaging 15.5 points per game. Guard Marcellus Earlington averages 14.9 points while 6-foot-7 guard Eric Williams, Jr. averages 14.7 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Williams is No. 7 nationally in double-doubles (7) and No. 12 in rebounds per game.
Another guard, Seikou Sisoho Jawara averages 12.5 points per game.
“They’re really, really talented. They are really knockdown 40% shooters from all five positions. They’re playing small. They are a handful,” Pope said. “They really boat-race the ball in transition, which has been a weakness for us so far this year. We gave up 13 points inexplicably in transition just in the first half (against LMU). That’s going to be a huge challenge.”
Like BYU, San Diego is coming off a loss. The toreros fell at home to Pacific 84-82 Thursday night. The Tigers’ Luke Avdalovic buried a 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining to seal the win for Pacific.
Earlington had 21 points and nine rebounds for USD.
After Thursday’s bitter loss at LMU — the first setback since Dec. 7 vs. UVU — the Cougars want to get back to winning.
“It hurts. Losing is never fun,” Johnson said. “Winning is really hard. Seven in a row is a great accomplishment by these guys. It hurts for sure.”
During his first two seasons at BYU, Johnson came off the bench. This year, he finally became a starter until his injury. Now, he’s in a reserve role again.
“I completely trust our coaches and what they’re doing. I came off the bench for two years so it’s not that big of an adjustment, honestly,” Johnson said. “I just want to do whatever it takes to help this team win and try to be a leader. It’s great.”
Saturday, the Cougars visit Jenny Craig Pavilion for the final time as members of the WCC. BYU, which is set to join the Big 12 next season, has experienced some memorable moments in this venue.
For example, in 2020, with 11.1 seconds remaining, Cougar guard TJ Haws floated an alley-oop pass to Yoeli Childs, who scored the game-winning basket to secure a heart-pounding 72-71 victory.
Johnson admits he gets a little nostalgic going into these road WCC games.
“I thought about that when we went to Stockton to play Pacific (last week),” he said. “On this road trip I was like, ‘This is our last time here.’ It does hurt that we couldn’t end our time here with a win. But we’re going to miss the fans, too. It’s incredible how these BYU fans travel to every game. There are BYU fans everywhere. That’s pretty special as well.”
For the Cougars, the adventure continues.
Steve Lavin, the new men’s basketball coach at San Diego, gestures during a news conference Friday, April 8, 2022, in San Diego. The first-year San Diego coach was formerly the head coach at St. John’s and UCLA. He was also a college basketball broadcaster for Fox Sports, CBS Sports, ESPN, ABC and the Pac-12 Network.
Gregory Bull, Associated Press
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