(Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

COVID postponement gives BYU men’s basketball time to ‘just breathe’ ahead of grueling conference slate

When the BYU men’s basketball team takes the court on Thursday, Jan. 6 against Pacific in the Marriott Center, it will have been more than a week since the Cougars’ last contest, providing an unexpected, but much-needed break as a new semester begins and tough West Coast Conference matchups loom on the horizon.

BYU was originally scheduled to open WCC play on New Year’s Day against Portland, but the Pilots were forced to postpone the meeting due to positive cases within the program. The two schools will work to reschedule the contest later this season, if possible.

This means that the last game for the Cougars before the new WCC opener against Pacific was a Dec. 29 matchup against Westminster at the Marriott Center, and the last Division I game was on Christmas against Liberty, in Hawaii.

Head coach Mark Pope said after the Westminster game, which BYU won 65-53, that the team could use “a day or two to just breathe,” and turned to senior Gideon George to ask if he was “feeling it,” to which George responded, “yeah.”

BYU played 16 games in nine weeks of non-conference play, with three of those weeks being Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. The team lost two starters to season-ending injuries or conditions, and played just seven of those 16 games in Provo, traveling to Hawaii, South Dakota, Missouri and Oregon.

And it doesn’t get any easier in conference play. BYU has two home matchups this week against Pacific and a 12-3 Saint Mary’s squad, before traveling to No. 4-ranked Gonzaga and San Francisco next week, with the Zags and Dons posting a combined 24-3 record.

Add that to a new year and new semester just getting started, and Pope’s plea that the team could use a chance to “just breathe” feels more than relevant. While fans can’t expect this break to magically bring back Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward, a chance for workhorse players like Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas to catch their breath could “make a world of difference,” as Pope put it.

Pope seeing the glass half full provides a positive outlook on an otherwise grim scenario that BYU sports fans have come to know all too well over the last two years. The Cougars’ WCC opener was also postponed due to COVID last season, and the 2020 team had its NCAA Tournament dreams dashed during the original COVID shutdown almost two years ago.

The BYU women’s basketball team had its first two WCC contests postponed due to COVID last week, and at the time of Portland’s men’s team postponing the BYU game on Dec. 29, four teams in the WCC were on pause due to COVID-19: Portland, Pepperdine, San Diego and Santa Clara. Gonzaga’s men’s team has now joined that list, with the Zags’ matchup with the USF Dons this Thursday postponed.

If the pauses keep piling up, BYU could be in for a much longer “breather” than originally hoped for.

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