LAS VEGAS (ABC4 Sports) – BYU is going to get a third crack at the #1 team in the nation.
The Cougars rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final nine minutes to force overtime, before eventually holding off Pepperdine in the West Coast Conference Tournament Semifinals, 82-77.
BYU, which has never won the WCC Tournament, will face the undefeated Bulldogs Tuesday night for the title.
Alex Barcello scored 23 points, including eight in overtime, while Matt Haarms had 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots, as the Cougars improved to 20-5 on the season.
In a sloppy game that featured 35 turnovers, 21 by BYU, the Cougars were outstanding from the free throw line, making 23 of 27 shots. Barcello and Haarms were a combined 16 for 16 from the line.
“How fun is postseason basketball,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “We have a phrase to ‘turn frustration into fight.’ We talk about it all the time. I was so proud of our guys. It is very rare that you can win this game with 21 turnovers. We did a poor job at caring for the ball. But the fact that these guys won this game with 21 turnovers is extraordinary, because you just don’t win in the postseason that way. It’s a tribute to their togetherness and their toughness, their resilience and their ability to take all that frustration and, somehow, magically absorb it and keep fighting. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”
Brandon Averette scored 16 points and dished out five assists before fouling out.
Trailing 61-51 with 8:30 to play, BYU went on a 9-1 run over the next two minutes to cut the deficit to 62-60.
Barcello then made a reverse lay-in with 16 seconds to play to give the Cougars a 71-70 lead. After a free throw by Spencer Johnson, Pepperdine tied the game at the buzzer on a jumper by Colbey Ross.
But in overtime, Pepperdine made just one field goal, while the Cougars went 8 for 8 from the free throw line.
Trailing 78-76, the Waves had the ball looking to tie or take the lead, but Johnson came up with the defensive play of the game, stealing the ball with 16 seconds left. Barcello then sank two free throws to give BYU a four-point lead.
Caleb Lohner added nine points and nine rebounds for BYU, while Kessler Edwards led Pepperdine with 20 points.
The BYU defense held the Waves to just 40.3 percent shooting, and the Cougars out-rebounded Pepperdine, 45-34.
BYU has already lost twice to Gonzaga this season. The Bulldogs beat Saint Mary’s in the first semifinal game, 78-55.
“We have got to do exactly what we couldn’t do tonight,” Pope said about playing Gonzaga. “We have to protect this ball and find a way to be physical and forceful enough to protect this ball. We have to do everything we can to limit transition opportunities now. Don’t mistake our recognition of the ‘Zags for any part of us thinking we won’t win this game tomorrow. We’ve got to be really, really hyper focused. And then we’ve got to go grind it out. We’ve got to believe. We’re really good at believing that when we play great, we can win, and even that if we’re playing sideways, we can still find a way to tough it out. We’re not grateful for a third chance to play the ‘Zags because we think we’re going to lose. We’re grateful for a third chance to play the ‘Zags because we can’t wait to go take another real shot at this and see if we can change the story.”