For the first time in nearly 10 years, the BYU Cougars are ranked in the Top 25.
In his first year, head coach Mark Pope has guided the Cougars to a 21-7 record, and on Monday his squad was rewarded with a No. 23 ranking. The last time BYU was ranked was at the end of the 2010-2011 season, when the Cougars finished at No. 10.
The Cougars (10-3 West Coast Conference) have won six straight and look to win their seventh straight game when Santa Clara visits Provo on Thursday night.
The Broncos (18-9, 5-7) have lost three straight and are 3-5 on the road this season. BYU sports a 12-1 record at the Marriott Center.
Fans around the country might not be familiar with BYU forward Yoeli Childs, but he’s no secret to teams in the WCC.
Childs averages 20.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He makes 59.4 percent of his field-goal attempts. When the Cougars need a basket, Childs usually comes through in the clutch.
Against San Diego on Saturday, Childs rescued the Cougars with an alley-oop dunk with 11 seconds left that gave BYU a 72-71 win over the Toreros.
“I’m just so proud of our guys. These guys deserve it. Just because you deserve something doesn’t mean you’re going to get it,” Childs told the Deseret News. “That was a battle. San Diego came out swinging, and they played a great game. But I’m just proud of our guys and it feels great.”
BYU is making a habit of winning in the final seconds. The Cougars now have won three games this season on game-winning shots with 12 seconds or less left to play.
“I was super nervous about [the San Diego game],” Pope said. “With Dalt [Nixon] being out — it’s the first time we played a game without him — and just where we are in the season right now. … I’m just proud of my guys for gutting it out.”
Nixon was hurt in the win against LMU, and the Cougars will be without his 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for a few weeks at least.
The Broncos are coming off a six-point loss to Loyola Marymount. In a game that saw 15 lead changes, it was the Broncos who couldn’t close out LMU in the final 10 minutes.
Josip Vrankic led the Broncos with 17 points. Jaden Bediako had 11 rebounds.
“We have a balanced team, a team that does a great job sharing the basketball, moving the basketball,” coach Herb Sendek recently said. “Our guys continue to play unselfish. Different guys have stepped up. But the key is guys are really playing together.”
The Broncos will need to get back to that style of basketball against a superior BYU team if they have a chance for an upset. BYU averages 80 points per game and 17.7 assists per game.
BYU ranks No. 1 in the country in 3-point field-goal percentage at 42.6 percent, having made 304 of 714 attempts.
The Cougars’ 3-point acumen was on display in a win last week against LMU, when they set a school record by making 18 3-pointers.
The Broncos average 76.1 points per game and make 36 percent of their 3-point attempts.
Trey Wertz and Vrankic are Santa Clara’s leading scorers at 11.9 points per game. Four others average between 10.9 and 8.2 points per game.
–Field Level Media