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LLOYD: UVU men’s basketball crushed by loss to BYU, believes it will be better than it showed

November 30, 2017 GMT

After a miscommunication on a back-cut between two of his players resulted in a pass bouncing out of bounds, Utah Valley head men’s basketball coach Mark Pope turned and strode back toward his bench, letting out a “woohoo” of frustration.

It was that type of night for the Wolverines in Wednesday’s Crosstown Clash.

In the most anticipated game ever at the UCCU Center -- the first-ever sellout for a men’s basketball game -- all UVU supporters could do was watch as the visitors from BYU made a statement about just who is still the top college basketball team in Utah County.

The Cougars seized control early and rolled to the 85-58 victory, while Pope and the Wolverines couldn’t find a way to get in rhythm.

“I’m disappointed in the performance we put out there,” Pope said. “BYU just crushed us. They out-coached us by far. Their players out-executed us and out-toughed us, not just in physical toughness which was a huge component in the game but in their discipline and how they played.”

When asked about getting a “punch to the gut,” Pope responded by saying that he’s not a boxing guy but that it was more than a punch to the gut.

“We got like three 10-counts and a KO,” he said.

In some ways, I feel like UVU was the victim of its own success.

With the win over BYU in Provo in 2016 and their recent solid showing at Kentucky to start the 2017 season, the Wolverines entered the game with high expectations.

But with that heightened anticipation also comes added pressure, something UVU isn’t really used to in these types of games.

That showed in the first half of the game as I saw the Wolverines trying to do too much individually and not enough as a team.

The result was just six UVU assists in the game with 17 turnovers compared to 15 assists and 16 turnovers for the Cougars.

“We turned into isolation basketball,” Pope said. “That’s not us, that’s not how we play. Everything got so slow and stuck in molasses. I’ve got to fix that. We’ve got to restore some pace and execution to our game.”

The UVU head coach said he liked how his team responded after the break but said the Wolverines couldn’t find a way to close the gap. UVU never had a run of more than four points before the Cougars had an answer.

“Managing your emotions is important,” Pope said. “One of the reasons I love these in-state games is because when you get to a tournament, it is live or die. There is no more tomorrow. How do you get your guys the most experience trying to deal with those emotions before you get there? You play a lot of games like this. I did an awful job of getting my guys in the right frame of mind.”

The disappointment of not playing the game the way they are capable of was clear in the faces of the Wolverine players.

“They executed well and we had too many turnovers,” UVU junior guard Jake Toolson said after the game. “We weren’t making plays for each other. We’ve got to stay together as a team. That’s when we are good.”

At the end of the day, though, this isn’t a big setback for UVU.

Even though the defeat was disappointing, the Wolverines learned quite a bit about themselves and where they have to improve if they want to compete for their first NCAA tournament berth.

“I’m really excited about what we can become,” Pope said. “Growing is hard. There are going to be nights where you just scratch your head and say, ‘what just happened?’ It’s really important for us to figure out how we are going to respond to this. This is all by design to see what we can grow into by the end of the season. From the bottom of my heart, I believe this is going to be a key point in what we become by the end of the season.”

Look, this is a good UVU team.

I like the pieces it has a lot and think it has the potential to become something special in Orem.

But like most teams in late November, I think it is clear the Wolverines have a long way to go.

I look forward to seeing them share the ball more efficiently and be more cohesive on defense as the season progresses.

I definitely hope the thousands of UVU fans who came Wednesday to support their Wolverines against BYU don’t disappear just because their boys weren’t amazing against the Cougars.

This team deserves to be cheered on and supported all year, no matter who the opponent is.