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No. 12 BYU Prepares For Battle On Glass In Big 12 Opener Against Cincinnati

Jan 6, 2024, 1:07 AM

BYU Basketball, Cincinnati, Game Preview...

BYU basketball gets set to host the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Big 12 opener. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – The long-awaited Big 12 season is here for BYU basketball. Everyone nationally is wondering, is this BYU team for real?

It’s time to find out as BYU welcomes 11-2 Cincinnati into the Marriott Center on Saturday night.

Cincinnati is making its first-ever trip to Provo. Saturday will be the fourth meeting all-time between the two schools with Cincinnati holding a 2-1 series lead dating back to 1931.

First meeting since 2001

The Big 12 lid-lifter for both programs serves as the first meeting on the hardwood since a first-round matchup in the 2001 NCAA Tournament. Cincinnati won that game in San Diego behind hot-shooting from Bearcat great Steve Logan.

This year’s BYU team can relate to hot shooting.

BYU comes into the matchup as the nation’s one three-point shooting team, hitting 12.8 threes per game. Cincinnati coach Wes Miller called BYU the best shooting team in the country in his weekly preview of the game.

BYU/Cincinnati will be won on the glass

But this matchup looks to be defined by rebounds.

BYU boasts the nation’s No. 1 rebound margin, outrebounding teams by 13.8 boards. Cincinnati isn’t far off that mark at 13.6 rebounding margin, good for second nationally.

“I was talking to one of our assistant coaches and I said, this game is going to come down to who is going to rebound the ball,” said BYU center Aly Khalifa to KSL Sports. “Whoever is going to win this rebounding battle is gonna win the game.”

Both teams have reached the top of the rebound stats despite never having their full collection of big men at the same time.

BYU has been without Fousseyni Traore for the past six weeks due to a hamstring injury. Traore has been a full participant in practice this week.

Cincinnati’s Aziz Bandaogo returned to practice

For Cincinnati, they didn’t get Utah Valley transfer Aziz Bandaogo cleared by the NCAA until the fifth game of the season. The 7-footer who helped lead Utah Valley to a victory over BYU last year in Provo is a difference-maker in the frontcourt for the Bearcats.

Bandaogo is averaging 9.2 points and 9.0 rebounds for Cincinnati. However, he’s missed the last three games due to a back injury.

Like Traore, Bandaogo has been practicing this week in advance of the Big 12 opener for both teams.

“Aziz is so long and he’s so vertical. He’s one of the elite shot blockers in the country and he’s an elite-level rebounder. He’s super mobile for his size,” said BYU coach Mark Pope. “…He’s been out because of the waiver situation and then in and had a little bit of a back issue. But when he’s full go consistently for them, he’ll be a massive impact player for Cincinnati.”

Saturday will be the only regular season meeting in Big 12 play between the two programs.

BYU vs. Cincinnati: How To Watch, Listen

Location: Marriott Center

City: Provo, Utah

Tip-Off: 8 p.m. (MT)

TV: ESPN2

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM – Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m.)

What you need to know about No. 12 BYU basketball

If BYU can take down Cincinnati, it would give head coach Mark Pope his 100th victory at BYU.

BYU is off to its best start to a season since 1987-88. In that year, BYU started 17-0.

BYU is a hot topic team around college basketball entering Big 12 play. BYU’s stats are off-the-charts efficient right now. They are No. 1 nationally in scoring margin at 28.8 per game.

BYU is fourth in the nation and first in the Big 12 in scoring offense at 90.4 points. But the defense might be the bigger story as they are a top-10 group in adjusted efficiency on that end of the floor.

The Cougars leading scorer is Jaxson Robinson, who continues to receive NBA draft buzz. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony placed the 6-foot-7 Robinson as the 38th-best overall prospect in the 2024 draft class.

BYU hasn’t had many close games this season. In fact, only three of BYU’s games in nonconference action were decided by single digits. BYU was 2-1 in those games, the lone loss coming at rival Utah.

Getting to know the Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati’s three games away from their home venue of Fifth Third Arena have produced a record of 1-2. The one victory was an overtime win against Howard.

Cincinnati is averaging 82.1 points per game and is shooting 35.1% from three-point range.

The leading scorer for the Bearcats is 6-foot-11 Viktor Lakhin averaging 13.6 points per game.

In the nonconference finale for UC, heralded Temple transfer Jamille Reynolds had his first start for the Bearcats as he continues to earn minutes on the floor after the NCAA removed the two-time transfer rule.

Aziz Bandaogo returned to practice this week after being sidelined by a back injury.

BYU/Cincinnati Fast Facts

BYU

Overall record: 12-1

Big 12 record: 0-0

NET: 3

KenPom: 4

Cincinnati

Overall record: 11-2

Big 12 record: 0-0

NET: 37

KenPom: 40

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com 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. 12 BYU Prepares For Battle On Glass In Big 12 Opener Against Cincinnati