BYU's Alex Barcello drives to the hoop against LMU. (BYU Photo)

BYU men’s basketball cruises past LMU 85-60 to WCC Tournament quarterfinals

BYU men’s basketball started its West Coast Conference Tournament run with a strong offensive performance and a comfortable 85-60 win over Loyola Marymount. The Cougars also showed their defensive capabilities, holding the Lions to just 22 made field goals.

With the win, BYU advances to the tournament quarterfinals, where it will play San Francisco on Saturday night. The Quad One matchup gives BYU an opportunity to add a much-needed top-tier win to its March Madness resume.

The Cougars looked exactly like a team trying to play their way into the NCAA Tournament against LMU. They were energetic throughout, with the Lions never coming closer than 16 points in the second half.

“It’s definitely a lot of pressure, but we came here to win,” Trevin Knell said after the game. “Before we got on the plane, (head) coach (Mark) Pope made us all say why we’re going to Vegas, and we told him we were going to win (the championship).”

Pope echoed the intensity surrounding March games, saying, “How great is March, guys? Come on, how great is March? We got to stay alive. Let’s go!”

Trevin Knell pulls up for a shot during BYU’s second-round WCC Tournament game. (BYU Photo)

BYU started off strong, going up 19-11 early. The Cougars were helped offensively by several players hitting shots, taking a load off of leading scorer Alex Barcello. Eight different players scored in the first half.

As both teams settled into the game, Barcello got hot as well, with back-to-back threes putting his side up 31-21. Despite a subsequent LMU timeout, BYU finished the half strong with a 15-point 43-28 lead.

“We wanted to start and play the whole 40 minutes with an edge, that’s what we’ve preached to each other all week,” Barcello said about his team’s start to the game.

LMU was led by Eli Scott at the break, who had over half of his team’s points. That trend continued throughout the game as Scott finished with a game-high 24 points.

The Cougars picked up right where they left off to start the second half, going on a 12-5 run to open up a 22-point lead. The game stayed comfortably in BYU’s hands for the rest of the night. The door felt firmly shut with about seven minutes left, as a Gideon George three and Te’Jon Lucas layup put BYU ahead 76-51.

Pope was able to rest several of his starters for large stretches of the second half, a valuable asset with another important game coming tomorrow. No starter played more than 26 minutes, which Pope was pleased with after the game. The bench, led by Knell’s 15 points, held its own, keeping the lead at 25 for a final score of 85-60.

“If we can get our guys as much rest as we can, that’s a good thing,” Barcello said.

Fouss Traore finishes two of his 15 points. (BYU Photo)

Barcello led the BYU scoring with 22 points, while Fouss Traore added a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. BYU out-rebounded LMU 44-25, including six offensive rebounds from Traore and 10 total boards from Caleb Lohner.

Spencer Johnson was the star defensively with four steals. He and Barcello locked down Joe Quintana, who hit eight threes and had 31 points in LMU’s first-round game on Thursday. Quintana had just 12 points and one made three Friday.

“We feel like we’re really caring about the right things,” Pope said on his team’s well-rounded performance. “It feels like we’re dialed in, we’re urgent, we’re making the right plays for each other.”

Both teams were without key pieces, as BYU’s Seneca Knight and LMU’s Keli Leaupepe were out with injuries.

Tomorrow’s matchup against San Francisco will tip at 8:30 p.m. MT on ESPN2. When asked if his team believes they need a win tomorrow to make the NCAA Tournament, Barcello said, “100 percent. We need to win every game.”

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