“It’s a fun place to be” — BYU men’s basketball rides hot streak into WCC play

Three weeks ago, Mark Pope’s BYU tenure reached arguably its lowest point yet.

Pope’s Cougars had suffered a grotesque, 15-point loss to UVU at home, looking inept in every aspect on the floor and allowing the Wolverines to appear as some sort of March juggernaut.

With the exception of Gonzaga, teams rarely waltz into the Marriott Center and curb stomp the Cougars by double digits, and UVU doing so is nearly inconceivable. Yet, it happened, as the humiliating loss to the Wolverines dropped BYU to 5-5 on the young season to flirt with the prospect of being below .500 in December for the first time since 2004.

Frightening? Sure, but they’re not called the “cardiac Cougars” for nothing.

BYU has rebounded from its reality check with UVU to rattle off five straight victories, closing its non-conference schedule with wins against the likes of No. 21 Creighton, Utah and Weber State to shift the momentum of the season.

“These guys have shown the willingness, ability, humility and toughness to grow,” Pope said. “I think we’re a much better team than we were six weeks ago for sure. Our trend really is upwards.”

Now 10-5 entering WCC play, the Cougars have began to gel more comfortably together and settle into a defined system, averaging just under 20 assists per night in the five-game win streak while winning the rebound battle by an average +14 margin each contest as well.

Since swapping Rudi Williams for freshman Dallin Hall at point guard, BYU’s offense has proven much more efficient, with Hall quickly emerging as a steady playmaker while the veteran Williams has transitioned into an ultra-valuable scoring sparkplug off the bench.

Fouss Traore has clearly separated himself as the Cougars’ most consistent offensive weapon, Richie Saunders has stepped in and thrived as a “dirty work” specialist and Noah Waterman has found ways to be effective on both ends of the floor.

Although turnovers remain an issue on offense, BYU has improved its efficiency in moving the ball while continuing to dominate on the glass, proving increasingly disruptive on defense as well.

“I think our guys are getting more comfortable with each other. We still have a lot of holes and vulnerabilities, but we have some things we trust as a group right now,” Pope said. “It’s a fun place to be. These guys have felt the joy of growth and getting better and I think they want more.”

The recent surge comes at the perfect time for the Cougars, who open their conference schedule Thursday at Pacific to dive into one of the deepest WCC pools BYU has ever seen. Five WCC teams rank top-100 in NET, with the Cougars placing sixth amid the sneakily dangerous league.

“If we had no growth and stayed the team we are today, I don’t think we’ll have a huge impact on this league,” Pope said. “I do think if we keep getting better we could really grow into a team that can be a problem. I think that’s really exciting.”

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