How BYU basketball benefited from a team effort in win over Pepperdine

It’s a well-worn cliche — “a team effort” — that’s been used probably since Naismith hung up his first peach basket.

But BYU’s experience this week, including a one-point loss Thursday to No. 8 Gonzaga and a 10-point win over Pepperdine, proves that “a team effort” is more than just a cliche.

After the Cougars suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Zags at the Marriott Center, assistant coach Cody Fueger was in charge of preparing the players to take on an explosive Pepperdine squad filled with dynamic shooters during a short, 48-hour turnaround.

Fueger, and Carsen Williams, a graduate assistant, were up all night Thursday into Friday morning putting together the scout for the game.

“We go back to the office until 2 (am) … then these guys stay all night taking in all the information,” coach Mark Pope said about Fueger and Williams. “You walk in in the morning and they can’t see straight. It’s like Tweedledum and Tweedledee walking around.”

Pope praised Fueger for simplifying everything the players needed to know in an abbreviated amount of time ahead of taking on the waves.

“It’s like 20 hours of work and you have to fit it into 15 minutes of presenting it to the team and trying to make it as simple as you can,” Fueger said. “Coach Pope did an unbelievable job, it was so emotional, just getting the guys ready and right (for Saturday’s game). The guys really answered the bell in the first half defensively. That was huge. I’m really proud of the guys.”

In practice before Saturday’s game, walk-on Tanner Hayhurst, from Eagle, Idaho, as well as Trevin Knell (who’s coming off surgery and hasn’t played this season) simulated the roles of Pepperdine’s scorers.

Then, before tipoff of the game Saturday, Hayhurst provided a pre-game speech. Hayhurst quoted Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith.

“After Thursday’s game, there were a lot of people that were writing us off,” Hayhurst said in the locker room. “But as my best friend Geno Smith says, ‘We ain’t writing back, though.'”

Pope loved the message.

“He’s currently undefeated in pre-game speeches. He crushed it today,” Pope said. “It was magic; he was so good today.”

Hayhurst also provided the pre-game speeches before wins over Idaho State and San Diego, making him 3-0 on the season.

“I might assign him every pre-game speech from here on out,” Pope said.

As for the Pepperdine game itself, six Cougars scored in double figures — and all nine players that got into the game scored at least two points — led by Fousseyni Traore’s 19. He also pulled down nine rebounds.

“I think Fouss is trying to move to the next level in terms of decision-making in a crowd and catching first,” Pope said.

Richie Saunders came off the bench to score 13.

“Richie Saunders had some up-and-down games and he was terrific tonight,” Pope said. “We needed every bit of his lift. That’s a beautiful thing about a team.”

Johnson and Dallin Hall also scored 13 points while Jaxson Robinson finished with 12 and Atiki Ally Atiki had 11.

“Atiki had really good minutes,” Pope said.

Hall also recorded seven assists while Robinson had four.

Gideon George went 0 of 7 from the floor, but he turned in eight rebounds and four assists. George was also 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.

Noah Waterman had his struggles Saturday. But Pope still has a lot of confidence in him.

“When you’re called upon, you need to deliver. Noah wants. He’s going to reset and he’ll have a great week next week,” Pope said. “We have a monster week next week. It’s going to be really important that Noah’s great and he will be. He’s a good player and he wants to be a good player. He’s had moments for us this season and we expect him to continue to do that.”

Pepperdine kept the game close in the second half but BYU closed it out in the final five minutes to earn a 91-81 victory.

“You always want to learn from every game, every loss, every win. That’s what great teams do; that’s what great players do,” Johnson said about applying lessons from Thursday’s setback to the Zags. “You learn from it and take it to the next one. It was a quick turnaround. I’m super proud of our guys for absorbing all the information and the scout and coming out here and finishing this game the right way.”

Certainly, the Cougars will need a complete team effort this weekend when they visit Santa Clara (Thursday) and San Francisco (Saturday).

“It takes everybody every night. That’s how a team functions. That’s how we function,” Pope said. “Dallin Hall played a tone of minutes. It wasn’t (Rudi Williams’) greatest night. He was tremendous in a stretch in the second half against Gonzaga. That’s why you have a team.”

Yes, that was kind of the theme this week for BYU, especially leading up to, and including, the win over Pepperdine.

As Hayhurst told reporters, “It was a great team win.”

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