LOS ANGELES — After each of his career-high six 3-pointers during BYU’s 77-54 win at Loyola Marymount, Alex Barcello averted his eyes from one of 3,900 seats in the stands at Gersten Pavilion.
Maybe he should’ve looked.
Maybe he didn’t because he’s superstitious.
Either way, his girlfriend, Zoe Simpson, will probably forgive him.
But maybe — especially if BYU head coach Mark Pope is the superstitious type — she’ll have a seat at every BYU game the rest of the season, including Saturday night at San Diego (8 p.m. MST, CBS Sports Network).
“I was trying to stay locked into the game,” Barcello told BYU Radio after the game, a verbal blush in his voice. “I probably should have looked over at least one time. But I was trying to stay locked into the game.”
Simpson played as key of a role in getting Barcello to BYU (20-7, 9-3 West Coast) as anyone. The two were high school sweethearts when the 6-foot-2 junior guard was starring at Corona Del Sol High School in Tempe, Arizona, and their relationship progressed during Barcello’s two seasons at Arizona, as well.
But after Barcello moved to Provo to play his final two seasons at BYU, Simpson stayed in the desert, for school, for work, and for her life. The two visit each other as often as possible — she came to BYU recently to help air a “Deep Blue” feature on BYUtv, for example — but they’ve been apart certainly more than they care to be.
Which made Thursday night’s game a little extra special. Simpson hopped on a flight to Los Angeles, met Barcello at the team hotel after shootaround, and sat close to the court at Gersten Pavilion to watch her beau.
It wasn’t just Barcello who appreciated her in the building — the Cougars shot a school-record 18 3-pointers on 40 attempts, draining more than twice as many treys as 2-point field goals to quiet a bottom-half team in the West Coast Conference.
But Barcello’s game was special.
“This Alex Barcello, right now this year — I don’t ever run a play for him. That can be frustrating for a player,” Pope told BYU Radio. “But for him to trust this team, that it’s not about the attacking action of a play call …. For him to have the ball end up in his hand eight times with eight great looks for 3s, it’s beautiful. We’re getting to watch something that has never happened in the history of BYU before, and we are all so lucky for it.”
But Barcello wasn’t even happy for his game-high 18 points, or his career-high six 3-pointers, or even his team’s remarkable shooting night the most.
His biggest joy of the night came in the final minute when walk-on Evan Troy nailed the 18th triple to set a new single-game high in program history.
“That’s my roommate, baby!” Barcello said of Troy. “I’m so happy for him. I wanted to run on the court, but I thought I was going to get a tech.”
If Barcello had run on the court, it would’ve been out of sheer joy. Jubilation. Happiness.
This BYU team is having fun, and the Cougars are on the verge of accomplishing something that hasn’t been done in four years: making the NCAA Tournament.
A trendy pick not only to be one of three West Coast Conference teams in the field of 68, but to advance. BYU has the type of resume that the selection committee likes, the computers love, and the oddsmakers enjoy.
The Cougars rank fifth in the country in adjusted offense, according to KenPom, which is 10 spots off their overall ranking after Thursday night’s slate. But they have bigger goals than that, bigger fish to fry, and bigger needs to accomplish than simply squeaking into the NCAA Tournament and being a top-68 team.
“I think this team is so hungry for that,” Barcello said. “We don’t look at it as pressure, but as a new opportunity. We are that team that battles. We’re going to bring it every night.”
BYU has a chance to make all its dreams happen. That includes winning 20 games, which Pope has now done for his third straight season.
But first, Barcello is going to spend some time with his girlfriend, and the Cougars are going to try to take care of business in San Diego.
“They’re trying to do something special. They’ve worked a long ways toward doing it,” Pope said. “But now we’ve got to get better.”
How to watch, stream, listen:
BYU (20-7, 9-3 WCC) at San Diego (9-18, 2-10 WCC)
When: Saturday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. MST
TV: CBS Sports Network (John Schriffen, Ryan Hollins)
Streaming: CBS Sports
Radio: BYU Radio 89.1 FM, KSL 102.7 FM/1160 AM (Greg Wrubell, Mark Durrant)
Series: BYU leads 17-6