Key Takeaways From BYU’s Victory Against Baylor

Feb 21, 2024, 1:42 AM

BYU Basketball, Aly Khalifa, Baylor...

PROVO, UT - FEBRUARY 20: Aly Khalifa #50 of the Brigham Young Cougars celebrates hitting a three pointer against the Baylor Bears during the first half of their game at the Marriott Center on February 20, 2024 in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – On January 9, BYU basketball held a nine-point lead over Baylor in Waco. The Bears stormed back to win that game.

Fast forward to Tuesday night in front of a sold-out Marriott Center crowd, it was Baylor who built a nine-point lead in the first half before BYU roared back for the win.

No. 25 BYU defeated No. 11 Baylor 78-71, in a much-needed Big 12 home victory before the Cougars go on the road to take on the Sunflower State road trip at Kansas State and Kansas.

Here are some takeaways from BYU’s victory.

BYU basketball continues to respond when faced with adversity

BYU hasn’t experienced many defeats this season. They’ve only lost seven times this year. But when losses happen, such as last Saturday against Oklahoma State, a 10-point setback to the Big 12’s last-place team at the time, many wondered if BYU was finally exposed.

Instead, BYU responded with authority against a Baylor squad that rates in the top five nationally in offensive efficiency.

But that’s what BYU has done this entire year. Suffer a loss to Utah, they then reel off four straight wins. There was a shocking double-digit loss to open Big 12 play against Cincinnati, they respond with an impressive showing at Baylor in Waco, then pull out a gritty win at UCF.

BYU’s defense was called into question after allowing 93 points to Oklahoma and 88 points to UCF. They responded. BYU held Baylor to 71 and less than 40 points in each half. An impressive accomplishment when you consider Baylor opened the game on an 8-0 run.

“I don’t think it took much from the coaches. It was a whole team thing,” said BYU’s Jaxson Robinson. “We came together, and we knew it was unacceptable in the way that we had shown up on the defensive end the last two games. … Everybody was well prepared and went over the scout really well. And I think we did a great job in our schemes.”

Jaxson Robinson helped his NBA draft stock

When BYU needs a critical bucket late in Big 12 games at home, Jaxson Robinson continues to emerge as the guy for the Cougars.

Robinson finished the game with 13 points and had four rebounds in 23 minutes. He knocked down three 3-pointers on a night where nearly 20 NBA scouts were in attendance.

The main attraction for those scouts was Baylor freshman Ja’Kobe Walter. Robinson took on the task of defending Walter and held the projected NBA lottery pick to 13 points and 3-of-9 shooting from the field.

“Probably my favorite play from Jax was a ‘next play block,'” said Mark Pope. “We had a mess up on the offensive end, and there was a lag-free reaction, meaning we just continued to play, and Jax raised back and made an unbelievable play in the air like a pro-level defensive play in the air.”

Not everything went smoothly for Robinson. There was some shot selection that wasn’t ideal. But in BYU’s offense, that’s his role. He has a green light to fire away. But what he showed on the defensive end against a future 1st round NBA pick had to help improve Robinson’s draft stock.

It’s a make-shots sport

Look, it’s a basic way of looking at things. But when BYU’s knocking down 14 threes, they can contend with anyone in the Big 12. They’ve already shown they can compete with anyone in this league already.

When that three-ball is falling, they can do some damage in March.

BYU hit 14 threes in the win over Baylor. That’s the most threes they have made in a Big 12 game this season—the most made three-pointers for BYU since the nonconference finale against Wyoming on December 30.

On the flip side, Baylor started strong, knocking down its first three 3-point attempts. From there, they only hit two of their final 17 attempts.

It’s simple. But you have to knock down shots.

BYU did that at a much higher clip on Tuesday, hitting on 39%.

BYU basketball shined on the offensive glass

One of the key stats in BYU taking down Baylor was second-chance points. BYU finished with 20 second-chance points, while Baylor only had four.

“I was more surprised with our performance,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “That’s something we pride ourselves on, we work hard on and that’s really disappointing.”

Aly Khalifa pulled out the magic tricks again

BYU center Aly Khalifa was back to his old ways. In the win over Baylor, the 6-foot-11 Khalifa finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and zero turnovers.

“I was just being more aggressive,” Khalifa said after the win. “I feel like teams have been pressuring me a lot. I’m just trying to figure out how to be effective on offense still and why they pressure me. I feel today, I was just aggressive getting to the three-point line. We’ve been emphasizing this with Coach Pope and the bigs. Guys, we’re cutting wide-open because people are scared of us shooting threes, so we’re getting wide-open layups, and I felt I just needed to do what I needed to do to pass the ball to them.”

The performance from Khalifa comes after a recent bout with the flu that took BYU’s starting center away from action for two games a couple of weeks ago. On Tuesday, he was back to his usual self before the sickness.

“Aly probably wouldn’t say this, but like, it’s probably the first day that he’s actually felt like a real human being after being so sick,” said Mark Pope.

BYU should be a lock for the NCAA Tournament

After defeating nationally-ranked Baylor, who entered Tuesday at No. 11 in the NET ratings, BYU’s win feels like an unofficial “ticket punched” moment to the NCAA Tournament.

There are still five games remaining in the regular season. As we saw last Saturday at Oklahoma State, anything can happen in these Big 12 tilts. But there are still two more at home, where BYU will likely be favored.

Many have wanted to poke holes in BYU this season. The fact is, BYU is a really good team knocking on the door of being a top-six squad in the toughest conference in America.

A lot of basketball is left to be played, but a win like Tuesday over Baylor should have BYU as a lock in this year’s field of 68 in March.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for 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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Key Takeaways From BYU’s Victory Against Baylor