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BYU’s Upset At Kansas Soars To Top Of Greatest Wins Under Mark Pope

Feb 28, 2024, 2:25 AM

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Every win is valuable. But some take on greater significance than others.

BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope earned the biggest win of his career on Tuesday night, knocking off No. 7 Kansas, 76-68.

The stage wasn’t the Marriott Center where many of Mark Pope’s greatest wins occurred. It was on the road in the mecca of college basketball, Allen Fieldhouse.

Moments after BYU basketball completed its handshake line with the Jayhawks, Mark Pope returned to his bench and was immediately greeted by his wife, LeeAnne, who jumped up into the fifth-year head coach’s arms, giving him a hug and a kiss.

The first lady of BYU hoops is at every game, every practice, home and away. That type of reaction isn’t happening after every win.

BYU 76, Kansas 68: Greatest win of the Mark Pope era

Taking down Kansas in their home gym is not only the best win in Mark Pope’s tenure at BYU but also one of the greatest wins in BYU sports history.

“This is really special,” said Pope when asked where this win ranks in his tenure since taking over at BYU in 2019. “I think it’s special because we all have such a deep respect for this program and this venue. All three of us (looking at Dallin Hall and Jaxson Robinson) are lifelong college basketball fans. This arena, this team, this coach and these players is just an all-time mecca.”

Mark Pope’s best wins at BYU

Pope’s other memorable wins include the historic takedown of No. 2 Gonzaga in the Marriott Center on Senior Night of his first season.

With Yoeli Childs, Jake Toolson, Alex Barcello, and TJ Haws, that team became the nation’s number-one three-point shooting team.

And as far as home victories, that one is the best win inside the cozy confines of the Marriott Center.

Who can forget Pope buying the entire student section free Cubby’s afterward?

But Tuesday’s win at Kansas edges out that win.

There have been other notable wins under Pope.

Defeating UCLA at the Maui Invitational that season was significant as it placed BYU in the winner’s bracket en route to a third-place finish. The lone blemish in that Hawaiian island run was to Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks.

The road win at Saint Mary’s in 2021 ended a seven-year losing streak in Moraga to the Gaels.

Any wins home or away against San Diego State have been resume-boosters for BYU.

The shellacking given to Oregon in Portland catapulted BYU to No. 12 in the AP Top 25 poll in 2022 garnered national headlines of that season.

Also, the road win at San Francisco, who went on to play in the NCAA Tournament that season.

But none of them compare to taking down Kansas in Lawrence.

BYU basketball has waited 100 years for the moment they delivered at Allen Fieldhouse

For decades, BYU athletics has been craving a conference stage like the one they were on against the Jayhawks.

That was evident when you saw the large gathering of BYU administrators and corporate sponsors sitting behind the bench in Lawrence. It was the setting BYU fans were left to dream of for decades as they were left at the altar in many realignment moves.

BYU athletics have always played in big venues and big opportunities. But they never faced a blueblood where they were BYU’s conference equal.

Yet, despite wearing the same Roman numeral Big 12 logo on the jerseys, no one puts BYU basketball in the same universe as Kansas. They still won’t. The history of Kansas is awe-inspiring when you walk into Allen Fieldhouse.

During Kansas’s pregame hype video on the big screen at Allen Fieldhouse, you see James Naismith and the peach bucket. Then you see Wilt Chamberlain and more recent Kansas greats Drew Gooden, Paul Pierce, Kirk Heinrich, Joel Embiid, and all the stars who have rolled through Lawrence over the years.

BYU won in that setting. That hype video alone could sink opponents who waltz in there before the ball is tipped.

Taking that program down gives BYU instant credibility in the toughest conference in basketball.

Does it suddenly knock Kansas off its championship perch? Houston and Iowa State are going to do that this year.

But it showed the league that BYU belongs and they aren’t a byproduct of KenPom and EvanMiya’s of the world. It’s a good basketball team that is looking for greater stages when the calendar turns to March later this week.

Mark Pope believed this was possible when no one else was willing to listen.

Mark Pope had faith that big wins in the Big 12 were possible

After a 19-win campaign in the WCC, it was easy not to see Pope’s vision.

Last October, he told KSL Sports that his team would make a splash in the Big 12. That was a big comment for a coach who was tabbed to finish 13th in the preseason poll as voted by his fellow head coaches in the league.

He knew the uptempo pace with an offensive identity of shooting a high volume of threes would carry his team.

It worked against a college basketball blueblood. And even more impressive is that BYU didn’t shoot the ball well and still outscored Kansas from three by thirty points.

BYU finished the game shooting 38.2% from three and only 39.3% from the field.

“I think what really makes it special for me is we talk all the time about faith in our program,” said Pope. “… Watching our guys faith in each other tonight and their faith in the process. We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half and we didn’t shoot the ball well to start the second half. But their faith in their abilities and their work and then I just thought it was really special to watch.”

Pope, who has always been known for his relentless, around-the-clock approach, can even pause and appreciate how good of a win Tuesday in the Phog was for him and his rising program in their new world of Big 12 hoops.

“I don’t know how it ranks, but it’s really special,” Pope said. “I would put it in a really, really, really special category.”

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and hosts the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU’s Upset At Kansas Soars To Top Of Greatest Wins Under Mark Pope