Alex Barcello fights for a loose ball against San Francisco. (Decker Westenburg)

BYU men’s hoops continues free fall with 73-59 loss to San Francisco

For BYU men’s basketball, what goes up must come down.

Just a week ago, the Cougars were a convincing 5-1 in conference play and ranked just a spot outside of the AP Top 25. Since then, BYU has dropped three games in eight days, with the latest casualty coming via a 73-59 beatdown in the Marriott Center Thursday night at the hands of San Francisco.

“This is something that we as a staff have never experienced here before,” head coach Mark Pope said. “We’re really searching and trying to find some answers.”

Alex Barcello stormed out of the gate for the Cougars, putting up eight points in the game’s first three minutes to power an early 12-4 BYU lead, which included an acrobatic, gravity-defying Barcello assist right under the basket for an Atiki Ally Atiki score.

The problem for the Cougars, however, is that Barcello was all they had. None of the other four starters for BYU made more than a single field goal, while the Dons got double-digit scoring from their whole starting five to hand Pope’s squad its first home loss of the year.

“We’ve kind of lost our identity,” Pope said. “The game is testing us right now.”

The Cougars were seemingly allergic to free throws, bricking themselves out of the game with 13 misses from the penalty stripe. Aside from a trio of 3-pointers from Barcello, BYU failed to make a single shot from deep while coughing up a typical 14 turnovers.

“This team is really interesting because all the numbers are backward and upside down,” Pope said.

Barcello led all scorers with 25 points, with Seneca Knight adding another 12 almost exclusively from late garbage time minutes. Atiki’s rapid ascension reached new heights in the finest performance of his freshman campaign, tallying 10 points on perfect shooting with four blocks in a career-high 20 minutes on the floor.

Alex Barcello tries to get the ball to a rolling Atiki Ally Atiki against San Francisco. (Haleigh Weaver)

Conversely, BYU’s other young, hotshot big, Fouss Traore, only managed a single point with five rebounds, while Caleb Lohner’s recent struggles drudged on for two points and six boards on an abysmal 1-of-7 shooting line.

While usually one of the nation’s more talented rebounding teams, BYU was out-gunned on the glass by a commanding 45-37 margin as the Cougar big men couldn’t handle San Francisco’s bruising size advantage.

“We’re not a prolific offensive team,” Pope said. “When we don’t rebound the ball, it gets really hard.”

The Dons led by as many as 21 points on four different occasions in the second half. An awkward BYU comeback attempt put the Cougars within eight but couldn’t survive.

BYU’s frustrations became all too visible throughout the night, as the Cougars chirped, scrapped and acted out to the tune of three technical fouls and a near-violent incident as Lohner was shoved out of bounds by Dons forward Zane Meeks late in the contest.

After spending their first 21 games outrunning all of their bad habits, the sky has begun to fall for Pope and company. With BYU having lost three straight after a 17-4 start, a juggernaut Gonzaga squad comes to town on Saturday for what could be the nail in the coffin for any realistic aspirations in the postseason.

“We’re a 60% ‘looking like us’ team,” Pope said. “If I’m good at my job, and we’ll see if I am this year, we’ll come out of this stronger.”

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