What challenges will Idaho State pose for BYU in its season-opener?

As BYU officially tips off the 2022-23 season, coach coach Mark Pope likes the challenge that Idaho State poses the Cougars.

BYU hosts the Bengals Monday (7 pm, MST, BYUtv) at the Marriott Center.

“It’s a really, really good team,” he said. “They have tremendous size, they’ve got a ton of length. They have athleticism. They have a point guard who’s coming into his own and can really dance on the floor and cause a lot of problems.”

Idaho State coach Ryan Looney is in his fourth year at the helm, having compiled a 28-56 record. The Bengals posted a 7-23 record but they’ve added a bunch of new players, including former BYU forward Kolby Lee.

Pope can’t believe that ISU was picked last in the 10-team Big Sky Conference in the preseason poll.

“It’s been really fun because we’ve been able to hone in on them this week. They’ve got a bunch of veteran transfers that are coming. They were picked last in their league. There’s no way that’s happening,” he said. “They have talent. Their talent has gone way up. It’s going to be everything we can handle here. We’re super excited about the game. It’s going to be a great home-opener.”

BYU defeated Ottawa (Arizona) 109-69, an NAIA team, last Wednesday in its lone exhibition game.

Guard Spencer Johnson led the way in his first career start at BYU, scoring a team-high 16 points to go along with six steals. He hit 6 of 9 shots from the field, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

“The last two years that I’ve been on the team, I’ve tried really hard to be a good role player and help our team win,” Johnson said. “Whenever I sub in, I’m like, ‘I’m gonna make a difference and put our team in the best possible situation to win.’ That’s going to continue. Nothing’s going to change there. Hoping to get some more minutes this year and move into more of a leadership role. That’s the next level for me.”

Five other BYU players also scored in double figures. Forward Fousseyni Traore recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Guard Jaxson Robinson finished with 12 points and made 4 of 5 3-pointers.

“He’s got a huge upside to him. I’m really excited about what he’s trying to grow into,” Pope said about Robinson, an Arkansas transfer. “I think he’s got a really, really high ceiling. … He’s going to learn how to feel more comfortable with figuring out how the flow of this team works, like everybody on the team.”

Pope is emphasizing defensive disruption this season.

“We’re approaching it a little different this year. We’ve been a bend-don’t-break, holding teams to a low shooting percentage,” he said. “I think we’re going to unleash the guys and see if we can be disruptive. It’s going to be super fun. I’m nervous, of course, because it’s new space for us … We’re going to have to grow that way … We’ve been really successful defensively the last three years but all the metrics that lead to disruption, we have not been great there. We’re trying to grow in that space. We’re going into new territory.”

The Cougars have won 12 straight season openers at the Marriott Center. BYU is 39-6 at the Marriott Center in four seasons under Pope.

Idaho State (0-0) at BYU (0-0)

Monday, 7 pm MST

Marriott Center


Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM

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