PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – BYU put up another strong defensive effort and ran away from Pacific Saturday night at the Marriott Center, 81-66.
The Cougars led by as many as 24 points to complete a weekend sweep over the Tigers and Loyola Marymount.
“We can feel ourselves getting better, and we played better tonight,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “Our communication and defensive intensity are two things we’ve been built on, and we’re starting to function better offensively as well. We didn’t shoot great tonight, but we got great looks and those shots are reproducible.”
The Cougars had double-doubles from Fousseyni Traore (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Gideon George (12 points, 10 rebounds), with 17 of Traore’s points coming in the second half. Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams also scored in double figures, contributing 11 apiece.
“I’m really proud of the guys tonight for putting up a fight tonight,” said George. “We all bonded and Fouss got a double-double, he was a beast on the offensive glass and protected the ball. We made plays for our teammates, Rudi, Spence and I, we can go down the list. Richie brought energy, Trey came in and played great defense, so I’m really proud of this group.”
An active BYU defense forced 18 Pacific turnovers, including 12 steals. BYU took good care of the ball, with tonight and Thursday the first two games this season the team had less than 10 turnovers.
The Cougars took their first lead of the game, 9-7, five minutes in after a Spencer Johnson steal lead to a fast break layup for George. BYU would add three more steals and fast break opportunities in the ensuing five minutes to expand the advantage to 21-15.
Pacific went on an 11-2 run to regain the lead, with Atiki Ally Atiki then putting BYU back in front with a short jumper that he converted through a foul. He missed the ensuing free throw but George grabbed the offensive rebound, leading to a 3-pointer from Robinson. Another three from Richie Saunders and a second bucket from Robinson gave the Cougars their largest lead of the half to that point at 39-30 with less than two minutes to go.
BYU would lead by double digits at halftime after George blocked a 3-point attempt, creating a fast break layup for Saunders. The 41-30 scoreline at the break included BYU ending the half on a 12-0 run, holding Pacific scoreless in the final 4:12.
“I want us to keep growing and getting better and get some momentum heading into Vegas as we finish these last conference games,” Williams said. “I feel like when we get to Vegas, no one’s going to want to play us in that first game. Teams realize that maybe the first time when we played them we may have dropped the game, but they know we’re a dangerous team and we’ve definitely gotten better since the last time we’ve seen them.”
The Cougars played most of the half without Spencer Johnson, Traore and Noah Waterman after all three picked up two fouls. As a team BYU had five blocks and five steals in the first.
Traore came out of the break and scored 10 of BYU’s first 13 second half points, good for a 15-point lead. The gap grew to as much as 19 at the 12:15 mark, with a Robinson fast break dunk off a Saunders steal giving the Cougars a 61-42 advantage.
A 10-3 Pacific run would cut the lead to 12 with 10 minutes to go. The Tigers would remain within striking distance for a few more minutes, but never got closer than 11. A 13-0 BYU run ended up putting the game away as the home side led by a game-high 24, 81-57, with three minutes left.
The BYU run started with a three from Johnson and also included fast break steals and layups from him and Dallin Hall. Pacific was held scoreless for over six minutes during the stretch. The Cougars ended up not scoring again, with the Tigers adding nine points late to bring the game to its 81-66 final.
BYU hits the road next week for the first time in two weeks beginning with its final trip to Malibu on Thursday, Feb. 9, to face off against Pepperdine. Tip is scheduled for 8:00 p.m.