No. 18 BYU Looks To Get Back On Track Against Denver

Dec 12, 2023, 9:59 PM | Updated: 10:23 pm

BYU Basketball, Noah Waterman, Denver Preview...

BYU basketball forward Noah Waterman and the rest of the No. 18 Cougars look to get back in the win column against the Denver Pioneers after a loss to Utah. (Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)

(Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball has turned the page from its first loss at Utah.

The 18th-ranked Cougars now focus on hosting the Denver Pioneers from the Summit Conference on Wednesday night (7 p.m., Big 12 Now on ESPN+ & KSL NewsRadio) at the Marriott Center.

BYU basketball back in action after first loss of season

BYU’s setback against the rival Utes was a reminder that it’s tough to win on the road in college basketball. The Utes are a potential NCAA Tournament team this season. Plus, if the shots aren’t falling, you’ll be hard-pressed to find wins.

But head coach Mark Pope didn’t leave Saturday’s contest against Utah dejected. Having covered every step of the Mark Pope era, I’d argue it was one of the more upbeat feelings I’ve seen from Pope after a setback since he took over the program in 2019.

Pope left the Huntsman Center with “more confidence than ever” because his team continued to battle on a poor shooting night and still had a chance to tie or win the game on the final possession.

The loss didn’t hurt BYU much in the predictive metrics and the AP Top 25. BYU fell only four spots in the poll compiled by media pollsters.

Wednesday night against Denver will start a five-game home stand for BYU basketball. They close out their remaining non-conference schedule at home before Big 12 play begins on January 6.

BYU’s meeting with Denver is the first since 1998. The two programs were once Mountain States Athletic Conference rivals from 1946-62. They’ve met 67 previous times, with BYU holding a 52-15 advantage over the Pioneers.

BYU vs. Denver: How To Watch, Listen

Location: Marriott Center

City: Provo, Utah

Tip-Off: 7 p.m. (MT)/6 p.m. (PT)

TV: Big 12 Now on ESPN+

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

What you need to know about No. 18 BYU Basketball

The loss at Utah took a hit to some of BYU’s eye-popping metrics that helped catapult the Cougars to an 8-0 start. But BYU remains among the best in many statistical categories entering the matchup with Denver.

BYU is No. 8 in scoring offense (89.3) and scoring defense (60.6)—the scoring margin of 28.8 ranks second nationally.

Without Fousseyni Traore (hamstring), BYU remains one of the top rebounding teams in the country at fourth in the nation, outrebounding opponents by 14 per game.

If you include Traore, BYU has six players averaging double figures in scoring. Sixth man Jaxson Robinson leads the way with 16.9 per game, followed by Trevin Knell at 11.9. Knell recently became a “dog parent.” He and his wife have a puppy named “Theo.”

Knell will look to get back on track offensively against DU after he experienced his first game of the season without a three against Utah. He was 0-for-4 against the Utes. The same goes for Noah Waterman.

Two weeks ago, Waterman was the MVP at the Vegas Showdown, leading BYU to its first tournament championship since 2010. Against Utah, Waterman was 0-for-7 from the field and had three rebounds in 21 minutes.

Knell and Waterman are vital for BYU basketball to return to their dominant ways.

Jaxson Robinson is not only leading BYU in points per game, he’s also leading the entire Big 12 Conference in three-point field goal percentage. Robinson is shooting 43.1% from distance and is second in the conference in three-pointers made at 3.1. He’s only behind Houston’s LJ Cryer (3.5).

Getting to know the Denver Pioneers

Denver (6-4) enters Wednesday’s game at 6-4. Last week, the Pioneers gave nationally-ranked Colorado State a scare in Moby Arena. DU had a 51-47 lead on the Rams with 14:14 left in the game. But then CSU began pulling away.

So Denver will likely come into Wednesday night with nothing to lose and confidence that they can hang with another Top 25 team.

It’s the first time since 1957 that Denver is playing back-to-back Top 25 opponents.

Denver boasts one of the nation’s leading scorers in Tommy Bruner. Bruner enters the game third in the country in points per game at 24.0. Through the first ten games of DU’s season, Bruner has scored more than 30 points twice. He’s shooting 46.3% from three this season.

Wednesday night will also be a homecoming for a pair of Utah natives on Denver’s roster. One of whom is a starter for Denver. Former Utah Utes forward Jaxon Brenchley is a starting three for Denver. Brenchley is 11th nationally in assists/turnover ratio (4.12).

Coming off the bench is Kaysville native and SLCC transfer Tyson Garff.

Third-year bench boss Jeff Wulbrun coaches the Pioneers. He’s totaled a record of 32-42 since taking over in 2021.

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

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No. 18 BYU Looks To Get Back On Track Against Denver