How BYU Basketball Held On To Take Down UCF For First Big 12 Win

Jan 13, 2024, 7:13 PM | Updated: 7:17 pm

ORLANDO, Fla.Β – Aly Khalifa buried a three with 7:17 remaining in the game to put BYU basketball up 13 on UCF.

The magic from UCF’s win at Kansas three nights prior on the same Addition Financial Arena floor looked to be exhausted.

But the Knights had other plans as they made 18th-ranked BYU Cougars work until the bitter end.

BYU 63, UCF 58 – First Big 12 victory for BYU basketball

UCF reeled off a 14-2 run and cut BYU’s lead down to one with two minutes remaining.

Suddenly, BYU was in danger of dropping a third game that they led at the half in Big 12 action.

BYU committed turnovers. They missed the front end on free-throw attempts. But despite the miscues, BYU found a way to dig deep and secure their first Big 12 win in front of the loudest crowd BYU has faced to date this season.

BYU 63, UCF 58 to improve BYU’s record to 13-3 on the season, 1-2 in Big 12 play.

“Beautiful ending”

After the game, BYU coach Mark Pope, who, with the win, earned his 100th victory as BYU’s headman, was asked a question about what the win that wasn’t pretty could do for his team moving forward.

“I would have to disagree with you,” Pope said. “I thought it was actually beautiful.

“I think that’s what you look for in a big-time college basketball game is two teams just spewing their heart out on the floor. I actually think it’s the most beautiful ending.”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But there’s nothing prettier than getting a win in the Big 12.

Wins in the Big 12 Conference are tough to come by for anyone, let alone a newcomer like BYU, who was picked in the preseason to finish 13th in the league. UCF was tabbed to finish last in the conference, but both teams put on a competitive ball game.

BYU center Aly Khalifa finished with 17 points and was 6-of-12 shooting from the field.

UCF made the decision to leave Khalifa wide open. The former Charlotte 49er was one of the country’s most efficient three-point shooting bigs last year.

But very few knew of his ability to be a rim rocker. Earlier in the second half, Khalifa threw down a slam dunk that had his BYU teammates on the bench on their feet.

“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.”

BYU defense stepped up against UCF

UCF’s offense was on fire early in the game, knocking down their first three three-point attempts. But they missed their next 15 finishing the game 3-of-18 from distance.

UCF starting center Ibrahima Diallo, the star of the Knights win over Kansas, scored 11 points and grabbed 19 rebounds against BYU.

Thanks to Diallo, the Knights had a sizable rebounding advantage of plus-seven in the first half. But BYU outrebounded UCF 19-18 in the second half.

Star guards Darius Johnson and Jaylin Sellers combined for 31 points but couldn’t come up with the necessary bucket to put UCF back in front of BYU.

UCF didn’t help their comeback attempt by only hitting 21 of their 33 free throw attempts.

“I thought our guys did a pretty good job about having the guys that we wanted shooting the ball, shoot the ball, and then also the guys that we didn’t want shooting the ball having some extended pressure and trying to make those shots really difficult,” said Pope. “Then, sometimes, you get fortunate, too. And on our side, it was a little bit fortunate.”

No relief for BYU basketball in the Big 12

The first Big 12 win no longer has to be discussed for BYU. It arrived at a critical time as Iowa State is up next, then a road trip to one of the toughest Big 12 venues at Texas Tech, Houston after that, and the month closes out with Texas in Provo.

“This league is special. It’s like nothing else,” said Pope. “I’ll be honest, and I hope this doesn’t hurt feelings or make people mad at me. But as we previewed the league this year, one of the things we thought was this UCF venue was not going to be over-the-top electric. It probably was the best gym we played in so far. It’s incredible and it’s just a tribute to the league.

“So in terms of relief, I don’t know if we have relief. I think we’re just hungry just to go find a way to win a game and now we’re hungry to go try and find a way to win another.”

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 XΒ andΒ Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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How BYU Basketball Held On To Take Down UCF For First Big 12 Win