Alex Barcello takes a contested shot against Pepperdine on March 8 in Las Vegas. Barcello led the Cougars to an overtime win to secure a spot in the WCC Championship against Gonzaga. (BYU Photo)

BYU men’s basketball outlasts Pepperdine 82-77 in overtime thriller to face Gonzaga in final

The BYU men’s basketball team is headed to the West Coast Conference Championship game after narrowly defeating the Pepperdine Waves in an 82-77 overtime thriller on Monday.

Senior guard Alex Barcello led the Cougars with 23 points, 14 of which came after the first half. Barcello hit six clutch free throws in overtime to put BYU in a position to win. Fellow seniors Matt Haarms and Brandon Averette also scored in double figures with 18 and 16 points respectively. 

“I believe this from the depths of my heart: seniors are magic,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said. “They’ve paid their dues. They’ve worked so hard. They know what it’s supposed to feel like, taste like, and how it is. Some of the younger guys struggled tonight, but these seniors, they delivered in a really, really tough game against a great team.”

It felt as though the Waves dictated the game, playing at their desired pace for nearly the entire contest. But when it came down to it, the Cougars were able to show up at all the right moments, just enough to get the victory. Junior Spencer Johnson solidified the victory with a clutch steal in the final seconds of overtime. This play came just minutes after a missed free throw from Johnson led to a tie at the end of regulation. 

BYU just couldn’t get their shots to fall early. The Cougars took good, uncontested shots, but each ball stubbornly bounced out of the cylinder. Pepperdine took a quick 17-7 lead just seven minutes into the game.

The Waves only continued to dominate, with Kessler Edwards and Jan Zidek hitting a pair of threes to extend their lead to 11 points, 22-11, with 11:18 to play.

Freshman Caleb Lohner returned the favor minutes later with a three of his own, bringing the Cougars back within seven points at 25-18. From there, BYU seemed to develop its first real momentum, hitting two additional threes from Barcello and Johnson to come within three, 31-28, in the final three minutes of the first half.

Despite being down by as many as 12 points in the first half, the Cougars demonstrated the fight they have shown all season and tied it up at 35 by the end of the half.

The Cougars started out the second half much like they did the first. After a quick initial dunk from Haarms, the Waves answered with an 8-0 run to take a substantial lead, 43-37.

Lohner once again brought the momentum back to the Cougars, cutting into the paint to get an easy two. Seconds later, Averette put up a clean three to bring BYU within just three points, 47-44, with 14:49 on the clock.

Pepperdine answered the Cougar run with a scoring spree of their own. Before long, the Waves had mustered a 57-49 lead with just 10:24 left to play.

The last 10 minutes came down to the wire, with BYU fighting back to come within one point of the Waves, 70-69. With just 15 seconds left on the game clock, Barcello hit a clutch reverse layup to give the Cougars the lead. Pepperdine traveled down the court but missed the shot, fouling with five seconds remaining. It looked as though BYU might just pull off the victory in regulation.

Johnson only made one of his free throws, however, giving Pepperdine star Colbey Ross ample time to travel down the court and take a shot at the buzzer. Swish. Overtime. 

“I’m not going to lie guys,” Pope said. “When Colbey Ross hit that shot, I asked ‘Have I been transported back a year ago against Saint Mary’s?’ I just couldn’t believe it.”

The extra period was gritty, to say the least. The teams exchanged points, neither one able to develop a substantial lead. But despite the sloppiness and uncertainty, one person remained steadfast: Barcello.

Barcello hit all six of his free throws in overtime, propelling the Cougars to an 82-77 victory and into the WCC Championship.

BYU will take on No. 1 Gonzaga for the WCC title on ESPN Tuesday evening. This will be the Cougars’ third matchup with the Zags this season, the only team in America to play them three times.

“Don’t mistake our recognition of the greatness of the Zags for any part of us not thinking we can win this game,” Pope said. “I think our guys believe, and we’re really good at believing. If we do anything, we believe.”

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