After working diligently to be ready for the opening game after a major shoulder surgery last summer, BYU forward Wyatt Lowell is facing another major setback with a season-ending injury.
Coach Mark Pope confirmed Tuesday that Lowell tore his Achilles during the Cougars’ 86-69 loss at No. 1 Gonzaga last Thursday.
“It’s how it happens a lot — a noncontact play,” Pope told reporters. “It wasn’t anything explosive. He was just changing directions.”
The 6-foot-10 native of Gilbert, Arizona, suffered a serious shoulder injury during practice in July and subsequently underwent surgery to repair his torn labrum.
But by the time the season tipped off in late November, Lowell was cleared to play. He played in seven games this season and averaged 6.6 minutes per contest. Lowell finished with a total of 14 points and eight rebounds.
“It’s super unfortunate, a really, really tough situation for anybody. But especially for Wyatt, having just barely been getting himself back after this labrum tear surgery,” Pope said. “It’s going to be another mountain for him to climb but he’ll do it well. He’s a tough young man and he’s really focused. He knows he has a really bright future in this game and he’s holding onto all of those things, having to deal with this again.”
The Cougars visit Saint Mary’s Thursday (9 p.m., MST, ESPN2).
Last season, Lowell redshirted after transferring from Utah Valley University. Now, he’ll be rehabbing his Achilles injury.
“It’s extremely unfortunate. Wyatt’s such a great teammate and a great guy off the court. He’s such a hard worker,” said senior guard Alex Barcello. “Our whole team was with him when he was battling back from a shoulder injury. He finally got back and we were so excited for him. To see him go down is extremely unfortunate. We just want to be there for him throughout this entire process of him coming back off this injury. We just want to let him know that we’re there for him. We’re his brothers and whatever he needs, we’re going to be there.”
Lowell is the second Cougar player to suffer a season-ending injury. In the second game against New Orleans, forward Gavin Baxter sustained a serious knee injury and underwent surgery.
Fortunately for the Cougars (9-3, 0-1), they have a lot of depth on the roster, including a lot of young players that are emerging. Freshman Caleb Lohner scored a career-high 13 points against Gonzaga, and junior Gideon George had 11 points against the Zags.
“When you have young guys that you expect to raise up and turn into really special players, it means that your roster and rotation kind of stay dynamic for the course of the season as guys lift up and gain some experience and are capable of doing more things,” Pope said. “That’s certainly what we’re hoping to be the case with this team.”
BYU is also hoping to have learned some key lessons after playing the best team in the country last week.
“We were disappointed that they were way more physical than us. I did a poor job of preparing the team to feel the right way. We didn’t feel right from the start. That’s partly due to the Zags. They make a lot of people feel wrong. And it’s partly due to us,” Pope said. “You hate when you walk away from games and feel like, ‘That wasn’t even us out there.’ Their length bothered us, which we expected. Their physicality bothered us, which we were surprised by. I thought we would have a better showing that way. We didn’t respond well.”
Pope thought his team would be more composed to start the game. The Zags seized a 30-7 lead in the opening minutes.
“It was almost like a reaction you would expect when the gym is full of 10,000 crazed fans and it gets you a little bit sideways except there was nobody in there,” Pope said. “That was a little surprising. They’re a terrific team. They’ve done that to everybody they’ve played this year. Collectively, somebody in college basketball has got to find the answer for them.”