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Takeaways From BYU’s Confidence-Boosting Win Over UCF

Jan 13, 2024, 6:27 PM | Updated: Jan 15, 2024, 3:13 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – No. 18 BYU basketball held off a furious comeback attempt from UCF to earn its first Big 12 victory.

It was a breakthrough win for a team that had come close to victory in the past two Big 12 attempts. BYU held halftime leads against Cincinnati and Baylor but couldn’t finish the job.

At UCF, BYU had the halftime lead, built it up, and hung on for the 63-58 win.

Here are some takeaways from BYU’s victory inside Addition Financial Arena.

Confidence boost entering the guts of Big 12 play

BYU is a confident team. They are also a team that knows their deficiencies and where they can succeed. But still, they needed that one win in Big 12 play to settle into the heart of the Big 12 race.

If they didn’t come away victorious against UCF, there would have been a long talk about when they would get their first victory.

So, in that regard, it’s a confidence boost that they know they have one Big 12 win in their back pocket. Now they have the challenge of trying to earn win number two.

Aly Khalifa was aggressive

UCF’s big men decided to leave BYU center Aly Khalifa open on the perimeter. He made them pay as he scored a team-high 17 points and shot 6-of-12 from the field.

Two of Khalifa’s 17 points were on a slam dunk early in the second half, which excited his teammates on the bench.

“It felt great. Nobody expected that, obviously. Nobody in the whole world, I guess, expected that,” Khalifa said about the dunk. “But it was a great play.”

Mark Pope, who stood in the press conference room while Khalifa addressed the media, added, “None of us thought you were gonna dunk it.”

Should we expect dunks in Khalifa’s tool kit going forward?

“Many more to come,” Khalifa said.

It was an impressive showing for Khalifa on Saturday. He probably doesn’t like the one-assist-to-four turnover ratio, but he impacted the game in various ways for BYU, including grabbing some hard-fought rebounds down the stretch against UCF’s bigs.

Richie Saunders has earned the right for more minutes in BYU’s rotation

Richie Saunders played 22 minutes for BYU on Saturday. There’s an argument he should have played more.

The sophomore forward has provided tough minutes in a league that prides itself on physicality. Saunders has embraced the role of being a physical player off the bench for BYU.

The former Wasatch Academy product scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds.

His ability to go downhill and attack the rim has been a positive development for BYU during Big 12 action.

Trevin Knell continues to shine from three

Through three games in the Big 12, BYU guard Trevin Knell has knocked down 16 threes. He was 4-of-9 from three against UCF.

One of his threes was a scoring drought-buster in the first half.

BYU needs to continue ways to get him more looks from three.

UCF’s size caused problems on the glass, but BYU improved in the second half

The athleticism and size of UCF was impressive. For being a team picked to finish dead last in the Big 12, they have a roster that looks the part of a power conference team. It’s why they were able to take down Kansas earlier this week.

Ibrahima Diallo for UCF was an enforcer on the glass with 19 rebounds. UCF outrebounded BYU 44-38 for the game.

But in the second half, BYU outrebounded the Knights 19-18.

Noah Waterman didn’t score in the game, but he had a tough four rebounds, one of which included two UCF players draped all over him.

Trevin Knell had four boards in the second half and another three players had two apiece.

Winning in a different style

If you asked people a month ago if BYU could win a game in the Big 12 on the road by knocking down only nine threes and scoring 63 total points, most people would have thought there wouldn’t be a path to victory for BYU in that scenario.

Despite some offensive shortcomings, BYU found a way to grind out a victory.

UCF’s offense started strong, knocking down their first three 3-point attempts of the game. But after that early onslaught, the Knights didn’t hit a three the rest of the night, missing their next 15.

Some of that is UCF’s offense is probably near the bottom in the Big 12. But it was also a credit to BYU’s defensive effort.

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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Takeaways From BYU’s Confidence-Boosting Win Over UCF