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‘This is the way you learn’: Brought back down to earth by Cincinnati, BYU has little time to lick its wounds

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope complains to the referee in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024. Cincinnati won 71-60.
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope complains to the referee in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024. Cincinnati won 71-60. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

There was a look of shock and disbelief on the faces of many BYU basketball fans as they filed out of the Marriott Center on Saturday night and into a wicked snow storm pounding Provo at the time.

If the 71-60 loss to a Cincinnati team that was a 10-point underdog is any indication, this Big 12 deal is going to be even more difficult than they anticipated.

“The guys will do more important things on Sunday, and then have a chance to really rehab their bodies and their hearts and their minds, and then it is a one day prep for what is essentially a top-10 Baylor team on the road. That’s the beauty of this league and we are really excited about it.” — BYU basketball coach Mark Pope to BYUtv after the 71-60 loss to Cincinnati.

“We are getting what we signed up for,” coach Mark Pope told BYUtv, then added, “and we are excited about the process. ... This is the way you learn.”

Pope wasn’t in a talking mood after No. 12 BYU’s second loss — he never is after losses — and spent only five minutes in the postgame interview room.

BYU’s players never entered the interview room, a shame because redshirt junior guard Trevin Knell scored a career-high 27 points while making a career-high nine 3-pointers, tied for the second-most in a single game in school history.

Pope never really answered why the white-hot Knell was on the bench for five minutes and 50 seconds in the final 10 minutes of the game, the stretch when Cincinnati (1-0, 12-2) took over and finished on a 24-9 run.

“He’s making a massive impact on the games for us,” Pope told BYUtv.

But that’s hard to do from the bench.

If there was a shot of the game that didn’t come from Knell, it was the one from Cincy’s Jizzle James with 9:30 remaining, a 3-pointer that gave the Bearcats a 56-51 lead with 9:30 remaining.

The Cougars panicked a bit after that, missing shots on five straight possessions before a turnover, then missing two more shots before Spencer Johnson stopped the bleeding with a bucket with 6:22 remaining.

With 4:19 left and Cincy leading 61-53, Knell got back in the game, but he missed a pair of free throws and hundreds of fans hit the exits, perhaps knowing that the Cougars just didn’t have a comeback in them.

“We had a lot of possessions where we just kinda gave into the physicality of the game. We just need to (play forcefully) more consistently,” Pope said.

“That’s why you play these games, and that’s why you jump into a league like this, is because it exposes things and teaches you, and so we are excited to grow.”

The outcome taught the Cougars that they have to improve their own physicality to compete in a league where Cincinnati won’t come close to being the most physical team they will face.

Junior forward Fousseyni Traore made his comeback after being out the past month, but was clearly not himself and finished with a point and two rebounds in eight minutes. Pope said starting center Aly Khalifa, who didn’t score in 18 minutes but had six assists and four rebounds, was ill on Thursday and Friday and didn’t practice.

“I am super happy to have (Traore) back. We need him. He is really important to our team. He was a little shaky on his legs a little bit, which is understandable,” Pope said.

“He has been out for so long, and really has not been in the guts of competition for a long time. He has proven (before) that he comes back really fast.”

Related

As will be the case for most of the rest of the season, the Cougars face a quick turnaround. They play at No. 18 Baylor on Tuesday night at the Bears’ new Foster Pavilion in Waco (6 p.m. MST, ESPN+).

The Bears (1-0, 12-2) outlasted Oklahoma State 75-70 in overtime on Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Because BYU does not practice on Sundays, it will have just Monday to prepare for its second Big 12 game, and first road contest in its new league.

“Yeah, and it is perfect,” Pope told BYUtv. “The guys will do more important things on Sunday, and then have a chance to really rehab their bodies and their hearts and their minds, and then it is a one day prep for what is essentially a top-10 Baylor team on the road.

“That’s the beauty of this league and we are really excited about it.”

Cougars on the air

No. 12 BYU (0-1, 12-2) at No. 18 Baylor (1-0, 12-2)

Tuesday, 6 p.m. MST

Foster Pavilion

Waco, Texas

TV: ESPN+

Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM