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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Key matchup: Fousseyni Traore’s low-post scoring, defense key for BYU against Gonzaga

Jan. 11, 2023 Updated Wed., Jan. 11, 2023 at 7:50 p.m.

PROVO, Utah – More times than not last season, the West Coast Conference’s Freshman of the Week honor went to Gonzaga sensation Chet Holmgren.

On four of the eight occasions Holmgren didn’t claim the award, BYU’s Fousseyni Traore was the recipient.

Traore is adjusting to a different, expanded role in his sophomore season at BYU. He enters Thursday’s game against Gonzaga as the Cougars’ leader in the two main statistical categories.

BYU lacks the perimeter shooting punch it had last year from guard Alex Barcello. The Cougars’ top scorer in 2022-23 is Traore, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward who hasn’t attempted a 3-pointer this season but continues to be effective and efficient down low.

The Mali native is averaging a team-high 12.8 points per game while making 60.1% of his field goals. Traore and Drew Timme, the Gonzaga forward he’s likely to match up against at the Marriott Center, are the only WCC players converting better than 60% on field goals.

“Well, clearly he’s an offensive weapon for us and he’s a weapon on the offensive glass,” BYU coach Mark Pope said of Traore, who ranks third in the conference with 3.1 offensive rebounds per game.

Pope has grown more confident in Traore’s versatility on the other end – something that could be key against Timme and frontcourt mate Anton Watson, who’ve combined to average more than 30 points per game.

“His biggest growth space right now is him switching defensively,” Pope said. “Him and (Ally) Atiki both have just changed our existence giving us the opportunity to switch. They can pick up the ball in transition, they can switch ball screens now and be pretty functional.

“They’re going to get better every day, but that’s a space we haven’t lived in over the last year and a half, and that’s been a massive change. He’s having a big impact that way.”

Traore has posted four double-doubles this season, and after averaging 3.5 turnovers over an eight-game stretch – including seven against Portland – the second-year player committed just one in BYU’s last two games against Loyola Marymount and San Diego.

“Clearly, him as a role guy and a catch-in-the-post guy and demand a double team, earn us a power play in a really simple way, he has an impact on the game every single possession,” Pope said.

Traore faces a size disadvantage against Timme, but BYU’s starting lineup doesn’t list anyone taller than 6-foot-6, so the sophomore is likely to get the early assignment. To keep Timme out of foul trouble, Gonzaga may elect to use Watson on BYU’s top frontcourt scorer when the Bulldogs are on defense.

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