PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) — BYU wrapped up regular Saturday night. Now he needs a deep run in the WCC Tournament to keep his NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Fousseyni Traore scored a career-high 25 points and pulled out 19 rebounds as the Cougars pulled away from Pepperdine on Saturday night at the Marriott Center, 75-59.
Te’Jon Lucas added 15 points, while fellow senior Alex Barcello had 10 points and 8 rebounds on Senior Night.
BYU will enter the West Coast Conference Tournament as the fifth seed and will face either Loyola Marymount or Pacific on Friday. The winner will face San Francisco in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
“I’m really proud of our guys tonight,” Traore said. “Today we played a good game against Pepperdine and finished the regular season strong. Today was a special day for us, especially for AB and Te’Jon. this team, in particular by helping Atiki and me, and I am very grateful to them.
“Fifth is not where we want to be, but we’re just going to go there and take it one game at a time,” Lucas said. “It’s season three now, it’s win or go home and the good thing about it is we’ve been playing this way for a few weeks. I think we’ll carry that advantage to Vegas with us.
Traore was one of four players in double figures, making 9 of 10 shots from the field. Gideon George scored 11 points for the Cougars, who finished the regular season with a 21-9, 9-6 record in the WCC.
The Cougars shot 46% from the field compared to the Waves’ 38%. BYU outshot Pepperdine 45-35, including 32-24 on the defensive glass. Most notable was BYU’s runs in paint dominance, 40-18 in favor of the Cougars.
“We’re going to play on Friday,” head coach Mark Pope said of the upcoming conference tournament. “It might not be a space we’ve been in, but for us for a month it’s been about finding a way to win games. We just have to find a way to win the game and I like our tendency, I like our momentum. I think our defensive effort, especially in our backyard, was great today… I think our guys’ defensive effort and focus are increasing, so I think that we have the right trend, and we have to do it because it’s time now. It’s time to go win.
A Traore layup opened the night for BYU and was followed by a 3-point Lucas. Traore’s block on one side led to a reverse layup from George on the other and a triple from Barcello put the Cougars ahead 10-7 early.
After George knocked down a transition plateau, Pepperdine scored back-to-back buckets before both teams then scored for over three minutes. George went 2 of 3 from the free throw line to break the scoreless streak, giving the Cougars a 15-13 lead with just under 11 minutes left.
Traore scored another layup, Trevin Knell knocked down one from deep, and George hit Traore low for a dunk, putting BYU ahead 22-16. Knell scored five straight points, a right wing trey and a quick layup, for a 27-20 Cougar lead.
Sending a Pepperdine lay-up, Traore ran up the field and thanks to a cross pass from Barcello to Lucas, scored his own quick lay-up. Trading basketball with the Waves, Barcello knocked down a midrange jumper, and Lucas followed with a reverse layup and a jumper just inside the 3-point line, taking a 36-33 lead in half-time.
Lucas broke a scoreless first minute and a half, scoring a nifty reverse layup with the shot clock ending to give the Cougars a five-point lead.
George added a bucket in the paint, Traore knocked down a pair of free throws from Traore and Barcello hit a floater on a loose ball, putting BYU ahead 44-35.
Atiki Ally Atiki slid a screen, getting a two-handed jam on a Barcello assist. On the next possession, a backhand triple from Barcello cut the lead to nine, at 49-40, igniting the crowd and forcing a timeout from Waves.
Traore then scored 10 straight points in the space of three minutes, taking BYU’s lead to 59-46 with less than eight minutes remaining. Coming out of a timeout, Lucas hit Caleb Lohner with an alley oop dunk at the break, putting the Cougars ahead 61-46.
Going 1 of 2 from the free throw line before knocking down a 3-pointer from right wing, Lucas gave BYU a then-record 17-point lead, at 65-48. A floater from George, a point layup from Lohner and a driving layup from Lucas kept that lead at 71-45 before two free throws and a baby hook from Traore extended it to 19-75- 56.
Pepperdine would hit a 3-pointer in the final minute and Pope brought in Richard Harward and Gavin Baxter to be honored as the Cougars closed out a 75-59 win on senior night.
“At the end of February and beginning of March, anything can happen,” Barcello said. “We’re not in the position we wanted to be in right now, but beating those last two double-digit teams is hard to do, no matter how good the other teams are. Every team is fighting for their lives right now, so we just want to play our best basketball.”