Alex Barcello drives against Pacific on Jan. 6. (Decker Westenburg)

Barcello turns the tide as BYU men’s hoops takes down Pacific 73-51

Life is pretty good when Alex Barcello is on your team, as BYU men’s basketball has come to find over the past three seasons.

In their WCC opener against Pacific Thursday night, the Cougars spent the majority of the first half flustered and frustrated, sloppily committing eight turnovers and unable to match the Tigers’ gritty intensity. Even Barcello disappeared for a stretch, netting a jumper on BYU’s first possession before going scoreless for nearly 17 minutes.

Just as Pacific intended, the contest was a grinder, with the Cougars desperately needing a spark to escape. Just as any superstar would, not only did Barcello light up at the perfect time, but he did it three times.

After all, Barcello knows plenty about threes.

With under three minutes to play in the first half, Barcello ended his drought and broke the tie with a go-ahead 3-pointer. Tied once again two minutes later, a Barcello free throw gave the Cougars a one-point edge.

“Just go get the ball and score for us. Alex does that for us consistently,” head coach Mark Pope said. “It’s so important for us to have a veteran guy like (Alex) who can do that.”

Suddenly down one and in dire need of points before halftime, Barcello launched a leaping three to reclaim the lead with just three ticks left on the clock. Barcello’s clutch gene proved contagious, as Spencer Johnson slid through the subsequent Tiger inbound, swiped the ball and deposited another layup in one of the season’s most satisfying sequences.

The Cougars needed a spark and Barcello set them on fire. Turning a one-point deficit to a four-point advantage in just three seconds, Barcello and company would never trail again and stormed out of halftime with a 13-4 run en route to a commanding 73-51 victory over the Tigers.

In addition to giving the Cougars a permanent lead, Barcello’s three before halftime pushed the senior to over 1,000 career points at BYU, becoming the 52nd player in program history to accomplish the feat.

“Let the governor know that Alex is coming for his job,” Pope said.

Barcello finished the night with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists, with fellow starting guards Te’Jon Lucas and Trevin Knell combining for an additional 21 points and five made threes. Freshman big man Fouss Traore — BYU’s fastest rising star — posted another double-double with 12 points and 11 boards, single-handedly keeping the Cougars afloat in a rocky first half. Long story short, Pacific got “Foussed”.

The Cougars clobbered Pacific in the rebounding battle by a convincing 44-27 mark while also swatting four blocks. Despite a lousy 17 turnovers, BYU still managed to dish out 17 assists and shoot 48% from downtown.

“When we function at a high level offensively, we create shots for our teammates,” Pope said. “Our guys kept trying to push and play with more and more force.”

Now with a win under their belt in this year’s ultra-competitive WCC, the Cougars are set to face the 12-win Saint Mary’s Gaels this Saturday in Provo at 8 p.m. with a chance to further establish their footing within the conference pecking order.

“We just have really good young men that are focused and trying and believe that they have a lot more left to accomplish,” Pope said.

Historically, BYU’s series with Saint Mary’s is always an intense matchup for the Cougars, with this year’s Gaels squad flirting with a top-10 national mark defensively and offering Pope’s squad a chance to prove their offensive worth. With positive COVID cases circulating around the league and causing continuous postponements, Pope said he had been given “100% confirmation” that Saturday’s game is still a go.

“It’s a physical battle for the entire 40 minutes,” Barcello said of the Saint Mary’s matchup. “We’ll be ready for it.”

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