No. 14 BYU Closes Out Nonconference Play Against Wyoming

Dec 29, 2023, 4:44 PM

BYU Basketball, Wyoming Cowboys Preview, Aly Khalifa...

BYU basketball center Aly Khalifa takes his nation's leading assist/turnover ratio into nonconference finale against Wyoming. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball is knocking on the door of accomplishing something it has only done four times in the modern era of college hoops, that is, start a season 12-1.

The 14th-ranked Cougars have that opportunity on Saturday afternoon when they host the Wyoming Cowboys.

It’s the first meeting between the old WAC and Mountain West rivals since they were in the same league in 2011. Saturday’s nonconference tilt will be the first of a two-game series between the two programs that will have BYU making a return visit to Laramie next year.

If this BYU basketball team reaches the 12-1 mark, it would be the first time they’ve done that since the 2010-11 season. Before that, BYU reached that record through the first 13 games in the 2009-10 and 1987-88 seasons. All three of those squads reached the NCAA Tournament.

A win would be a solid exclamation mark to a nonconference season that has seen BYU dominate its opponents and soar up the predictive ratings. BYU enters the game at No. 4 in the KenPom ratings.

BYU vs. Wyoming: How To Watch, Listen

Location: Marriott Center

City: Provo, Utah

Tip-Off: 4 p.m. (MT)

TV: Big 12 Now on ESPN+

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM — Coverage begins at Noon with Cougar Sports Saturday)

What you need to know about No. 14 BYU Basketball

It’s almost amusing to see how big of a lead BYU center Aly Khalifa has on the rest of the nation for assist/turnover ratio. Khalifa has an eye-popping 17.0 assist/TO ratio. He’s dished out 34 assists and only two turnovers.

The next closest nationally is Utah State’s Darius Brown II, with a 5.82 ratio.

What’s impressive about the 6-foot-11 Khalifa’s ball security is that a lot of BYU’s offense runs through the versatile big man that has received comparisons by Bill Walton as college basketball’s version of Nikola Jokic.

“In my opinion, Aly is the best passing big man in the country and in the world,” said BYU guard Dallin Hall. “You can’t replicate it; you can’t find it anywhere else. What he does is special. I don’t think it’s just because of the limited amount of turnovers. I think it’s the kind of passes he’s making. It frees us up a lot as shooters because teams have to press out really far with how we space the floor and how we shoot it.”

The humble Khalifa remains focused on the task at hand and isn’t letting the national stat leads impact what he does for the team.

“It’s good to feel like I’m not turning the ball over as much as before. We are not even halfway through the season yet. But I gotta keep going and keep getting assists for my teammates and keep getting them open and not the ball over as much. Obviously, it feels great, but I’m not really looking at this stat at the moment.”

Khalifa has flourished in his role as the starting five despite not being at 100% with his knee, which kept him out of three games this season.

Updates on injured BYU basketball personnel

Injuries have been a common theme for this team. Jaxson Robinson missed last week’s game against Bellarmine due to an ankle sprain. He returned to practice this week after a three-day break for Christmas.

Then, there was a positive development for injured Fousseyni Traore. The 6-foot-6 big man participated in the first half of practices on Wednesday and Thursday, his first action on the floor since suffering a hamstring injury on Black Friday against N.C. State.

UC Irvine transfer Dawson Baker shined last week in the victory over Bellarmine as he continues to work his way back from a foot injury he suffered in training camp. Baker did not participate in practice on Thursday.

Mark Pope acknowledged that some players have been under the weather since returning from the holiday break. One of those players battling an illness was starting forward Noah Waterman. Pope added that he doesn’t expect anyone to miss Saturday’s game against Wyoming due to being under the weather.

BYU basketball continues to lead the nation in scoring margin defeating opponents by 29.1 points per game. They are making the most three-pointers per game at 12.8 while attempting 33.9.

Getting to know the Wyoming Cowboys

Wyoming comes into the Saturday afternoon matchup with BYU at 7-5. The Pokes have been off since a December 21 loss at UTEP.

Wyoming is fourth nationally in three-point percentage at 41.4% per game. But unlike BYU, the Cowboys don’t attempt threes often. Wyoming is 311th in the nation in attempts at 18.3 per game, but they make the most of their limited shots from distance.

Jeff Linder is in his fourth year leading the Cowboys program. He helped Wyoming to an NCAA Tournament appearance in the First Four two years ago.

Four of Wyoming’s projected five starters are graduate seniors. The leader of the group is Tulsa transfer Sam Griffin, who is averaging 17.8 points, 3.7 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game from the guard line.

Griffin has had five games this season, scoring 22 points or more.

Two of Wyoming’s starting five were transfers from divisions below D-1, Akuel Kot (Fort Lewis College, Division II) and Mason Walters (U. of Jamestown, NAIA).

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. 14 BYU Closes Out Nonconference Play Against Wyoming