Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Fousseyni Traore wasn’t the ideal center, but WVU still had a hard time guarding him

With a heavy African accent, it was difficult to understand what exactly Fousseyni Traore was saying in BYU’s postgame press conference.

It was even harder for West Virginia to guard him.

Before we go any further, we must tell you that Traore wasn’t expected to start Saturday, as No. 22 BYU visited the Coliseum for the first time in program history and came away with an 86-73 victory.

BYU’s usual starting center, Aly Khalifa, had fallen ill and was listed as out just prior to the game.

That opened the door for Tarore, a native of Mali who absolutely tore the Mountaineers up with 24 points, two blocked shots, nine rebounds and six offensive rebounds.

Here’s the other thing you need to know about Traore, he’s only 6-foot-6.

That’s great size for a point guard. It would even work as a small forward. Traore plays center, against guys like WVU’s Jesse Edwards, who is listed at 6-11.

A 6-6 center in major college basketball is just asking for trouble, or so it would seem.

“It was just a special opportunity,” said Traore, who also packs in 240 pounds of muscle into the smaller frame. “It was super good for my teammates. They make my life super easy by finding me and making the easy passes.”

And that’s the thing, they were all super easy passes that went inside to BYU’s medium-sized big man. By the end of the game, Tarore had built up so much confidence in himself that he lined up with Edwards on his hip and was calling for the lob.

It never came, but Traore had done everything else by then.

“He was obviously very strong with his right hand,” Edwards said. “All credit to him for this game. He made it very tough on me and Pat (Suemnick). He played a really good game. He’s strong.”

What he did in the middle was dominate, but what Traore did on other parts of the floor made it a special game for him.

His three assists came from grabbing crucial offensive rebounds and kicking it back out to open shooters. When Traore was setting screens, they were good ones that led to lay-ups for his teammates.

Quite simply, either WVU really judged a book by its cover and severely underestimated Traore, or, worse, the Mountaineers simply couldn’t guard a 6-6 guy in the paint.

“I know I’m a lot better than this,” Edwards said in taking the blame for WVU’s lack of defense in the paint. “Knowing that, in that way, I kind of let my team down, because I’m a lot better on defense than what I showed tonight.”

Here was the thing that made BYU’s victory so odd: Traore wasn’t supposed to score, but WVU couldn’t guard him. BYU point guard Dallin Hall wasn’t even trying to score and WVU couldn’t guard him, either.

Hall blew past WVU defenders on his way to 12 assists — the Mountaineers had 13 as a team — and continually got guys open for one of BYU’s 13 3-pointers.

That is BYU basketball, though. Move the ball, move the ball, drive, dish and hit a 3-pointer.

Traore wasn’t supposed to do what he did. Not that he was incapable of it, as Traore did have 16 points in 18 minutes earlier against Texas. He also had a 25-point game against Pepperdine last season.

WVU, though, is supposed to be better on defense than Pepperdine.

“Fouss knew coming into this game he was going to have to carry a massive load against one of the elite centers in this league,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said. “Fouss loves stepping up to the challenge and he was terrific tonight.”