by Tai Justice | BYU narrowly escaped a Monday night showdown against Pepperdine last night in a West Coast Conference Semifinals matchup where 40 minutes wasn’t enough to decide the winner. It started as a nerve-wracking game for BYU fans, as Pepperdine jumped out to an early 8-2 lead and had the lead pretty much the rest of the game, even leading by as much as 11 at one point. The Cougars fought back from the early deficit in the first half and headed into halftime tied at 35.
As a fan of BYU, this is about when I started to feel better about the game, because it really seemed like BYU had weathered the early storm from the waves and had steadied the ship. BYU took their first lead of the game in the first minute of the second half and after a stop it felt like the game might be turning in the Cougars favor. Behind their two senior stars, Colbey Ross and Kessler Edwards, Pepperdine responded to the BYU run with a run of their own, pushing the lead back up to double digits with under 8 minutes left in the game. The two combined for 36 of the teams 77 points and Edwards held his own against BYU star Matt Haarms as both of the big men had big nights. Edwards finished the game with 20 points and 9 boards.
BYU’s resilience showed all night, trailing 61-51, they responded with a quick 8-0 run to cut the lead to two. The game was basically a free-throw shooting contest from there on out as both teams were in the double bonus, Pepperdine shot over 70% from the line on the season, but a couple crucial misses allowed BYU to stay close and eventually take the lead on an Alex Barcello layup. BYU lead by 1 with 15 seconds left, it felt like they were just a stop away from facing the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the WCC Championship and it turns that wasn’t the case. BYU’s defense held strong, but Spencer Johnson split a pair of free-throws and allowed Colbey Ross to run the length of the court and make a falling away jumper to send the game into overtime.
The jumper was well defended by BYU, just a good make by Ross. A rarity in the second half as the game had really slowed down due to poor shooting and a whistle almost every possession, both teams saw long extended scoring droughts. In OT, BYU’s two stars were the ones to take them home and punch their ticket to tonight’s WCC Championship Game. Haarms was all over the floor on both ends, affecting every Pepperdine shot that was near the basket and he was also cleaning up on the glass on offense. Haarms was a cool 8-8 from the line. Barcello did what he has done all season, knocked down tough shot after tough shot and being a very good rebounder for a guard finishing the game with 23 points and 9 rebounds. If I was handing out a player of the game I would have to have those two split it, as they were both fantastic on the night. BYU 82, Pepperdine 77 was the final.
BYU will now face their toughest challenge yet, a team that’s already blown them out twice this year, the top ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs with an automatic NCAA Tournament bid on the line. Both are already locks to make the field of 68, with Gonzaga set to be the tournament’s top overall seed and BYU staring at between a 7-8 seed. A win for BYU would obviously help improve their seeding line and a win for Gonzaga would allow them to head into the tournament unbeaten.
What to expect
I think BYU is a very good team that can give many teams trouble come tournament time because of their veteran leadership from Barecello and Haarms, along with the way they lockup on defense and can score in flurries, but there’s a clear gap between these two teams and to be fair to BYU, there might be a clear gap between Gonzaga and everyone else in College Basketball. Now, if there’s a team to pull off an upset against a Gonzaga team that looks practically unbeatable, it would be BYU. You don’t have to look far to see an unbeaten Gonzaga team have their party spoiled by BYU. In 2017, BYU went into Spokane and beat the 29-0 Bulldogs, so anything is possible, but I heavily favor Gonzaga in this matchup.
How could BYU pull of an upset? Shorten the game, limit possessions and keep Gonzaga out of transition. When the Zags get out and run, they can really showcase their athleticism and it’s hard for a team like BYU, or anyone really to keep up. Haarms needs to do what he does and control the paint and it wouldn’t hurt for Barecello to turn into Jimmer in 2011 for a night. Go Cougars.
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