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No. 19 BYU Preparing For ‘Slugfest’ Against Stingy UCF

Feb 12, 2024, 11:20 PM

PROVO, Utah – Coming into this year’s 14-team Big 12 Conference in hoops, BYU and UCF were considered cellar dwellers. BYU was picked 13th, while the Big 12 coaches tabbed UCF to finish dead last.

More than halfway through their inaugural Big 12 campaigns, the two programs have proved they are not the punching bags many assumed they would be.

Both teams have earned wins over Texas, with Horns Down controversies that followed. BYU has notched wins over Iowa State and Kansas State. UCF took down Kansas and Oklahoma.

Other coaches around the league are taking notice of the contributions newcomers BYU and UCF are providing.

“Look at the NET,” said Kansas State head coach Jerome Tang on the contributions of the Big 12 newcomers after his team lost to BYU on Saturday. “[There are] great environments, great coaches, and really good teams. From top to bottom, I think two games separate first from tenth. There’s no easy game. Whether it’s at home or on the road, there’s no easy win. Anybody can beat anybody and that’s why we have the best conference in America. That’s why we will have 10 or 11 teams coming up in the NCAA Tournament.”

BYU is a team comfortably in NCAA Tournament bracket projections right now. UCF has work to do to make a late-season climb into the bracket.

The two teams square off for the second time this season. It’s the first time BYU is facing a repeat Big 12 opponent. The first meeting went to BYU on January 13 in a loud, energetic UCF environment. It was BYU’s first-ever Big 12 win and Mark Pope’s 100th career victory at BYU.

BYU vs. UCF: How To Watch, Listen

Location: Marriott Center

City: Provo, Utah

Tip-Off: 7 p.m. (MT)/9 p.m. (ET)

TV: Big 12 Now on ESPN+

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM – Pregame begins at 6 p.m.)

What you need to know about No. 19 BYU basketball

Saturday’s win over Kansas State marked the return of BYU center Aly Khalifa. The “Egyptian Magician” dished out six assists and only had two turnovers in 20 minutes.

Mark Pope placed Khalifa into the starting five and had Fousseyni Traore come off the bench. Joining Traore was BYU’s leading scorer, Jaxson Robinson, in the second unit.

The decision by Pope worked as BYU’s bench produced 30 points in the win over the Wildcats.

Traore has scored in double figures in four consecutive games.

The big question is, will there be an opportunity for Khalifa and Traore to play on the floor together at some point? Mark Pope said earlier this month that they’ve only had three practices this season where they’ve practiced with that lineup. Both players have been in and out due to injuries and illnesses.

BYU’s backup point guard spot behind Dallin Hall has been a concern in Big 12 play. However, junior Trey Stewart took steps forward against K-State to be the primary backup to Hall.

In his first game action since at Baylor on January 9, Stewart scored four points, had an assist, a steal, and no turnovers in nine minutes of action.

BYU will look to improve from an abysmal shooting performance from the free throw line on Saturday, where they only knocked down 47.6% of their attempts.

The Cougar defense continues to quietly impress this season. BYU ranks No. 24 in adjusted defensive metrics on KenPom. They held K-State to 26% shooting from three over the weekend.

BYU’s defense held UCF to 58 points in the first meeting last month in Orlando.

Getting up to speed on the UCF Knights

The prognosticators view BYU as a big favorite at home against UCF. BYU head coach Mark Pope isn’t subscribing to that line of thought.

“What a team, my gosh. Like it’s a slugfest [against them], they’re doing an unbelievable job,” said Pope. “They’ve done a great job moving into the Big 12 and they’ve had huge wins. They’re ridiculously physical and athletic. Johnny [Dawkins] is a great coach and a better human being and I love him. So it’s gonna be an all-out war, just like every game is in this league.”

UCF leans into its identity on defense. The Knights are ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency this season.

UCF comes into Provo after a tough loss at Texas Tech in Lubbock on Saturday afternoon. The Knights never led against Tech, but they hung around for the entire 40 minutes in the same venue that saw Kansas get blitzed on Monday night.

A big question for UCF entering Tuesday’s game is the status of the Big 12’s top shot blocker, Ibrahima Diallo. Diallo missed the Tech game due to a knee injury.

In the first meeting against BYU, Diallo had 11 points, 19 rebounds, and two blocks.

UCF is amid its first Saturday to Tuesday road swing. The Knights didn’t travel back to Orlando after the Tech game. Instead, they flew into Utah and spent Super Bowl Sunday with Utah Jazz rookie and UCF alum Taylor Hendricks.

Hendricks hosted the Knights at his house.

BYU knows the challenges of an extended road trip. Last Tuesday at Oklahoma, days after a trip to West Virginia, BYU was a tired team in a double-digit loss to the Sooners. We will see how the Knights in their first game in the Mountain Time Zone and altitude since 2008.

Aside from Diallo, the key players for UCF include leading scorer Jaylin Sellers and sixth man CJ Walker.

BYU

Overall record: 17-6

Big 12 record: 5-5

NET: 8

KenPom: 12

AP ranking: No. 19

Coaches Poll: No. 17

UCF

Overall record: 13-9

Big 12 record: 4-6

NET: 66

KenPom: 65

AP ranking: Not ranked

Coaches Poll: Not ranked

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

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No. 19 BYU Preparing For ‘Slugfest’ Against Stingy UCF