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How do opponents prepare to face No. 19 BYU? Very carefully

By Darnell Dickson - | Feb 16, 2024

Harold Mitchell, Special to the Herald

BYU head coach Mark Pope talks to his team during the Big 12 game against Kansas State in the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024.

BYU, as a school, has often prided itself on being different.



The men’s basketball team can claim all the same attributes.

Preparing for the 19th-ranked Cougars is algebra compared to basic math for Big 12 opponents because nobody in the league operates offensively like BYU.

First, all five starters can shoot 3-pointers and the Cougars want to shoot at least 35 a game. BYU often runs an offense where all five players start outside the 3-point line. The offensive actions are different because the main trigger man is a 6-foot-11 center who hangs out at the top of the key and drops dimes to cutting teammates.

“I like it,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “I actually dig it. I think it makes it so fascinating as we’re winding our way through the conference season. Every game is so fascinating to see how teams come out in the beginning of the game and how they adjust throughout the game. I like living on the edges because it just pushes everybody to be a little bit more creative and a little more decisive in what they’re trying to do do.”

The Cougars have put up a double-digit lead against nearly every opponent in Big 12 play, but have had some issues keeping that lead in the second half. On Tuesday, BYU led UCF by 19 points early in the second half but had to hold on to win by two points as the Knights went a little bit crazy in the final minute of the game.

This is how Pope answers the question about if there is an issue of BYU letting teams back into the game: “I think we’re going to stay aggressive. We’re not going to spend a lot of time playing prevent defense. We want to go play and get lots of possessions so there can be more variability. We want to use all the space on the floor. That’s the way we’re really coming to play.

“I don’t actually know how to dig way deeper into it than that, about how our style of play fits into that. I’m actually trying to push deeper into that. I’d like to be more committed to staying assertive on the floor all the time. We trust that a lot.”

BYU has won games in the Big 12 in different ways, from 3-point shooting, to pounding the ball inside to Fousseyni Traore, to pushing transition to making 40 free throws against UCF.

Adjusting the game plan on the fly, Pope said, is a necessity.

“In this league, it’s probably necessary that you’re adaptable to grabbing on to the circumstances of the game,” he said. “One of the things that interesting about the way we play is that we’re different than everybody in this league, the way we approach the game. With our scout, we spend a lot of time guessing defensively. Our opponent’s game film lies. Look at how team’s have guarded us the past five games. For us, that kind of just increases the requirement for adaptability. Having a little bit more veteran team, our guys are pretty adaptable through the course of the game.”

That doesn’t mean the Cougars can’t learn plenty from the second half of UCF and end-of-game situations.

“There are a lot of great teams and great players in the Big 12,” Khalifa said. “Even if you’re down 15 of 17 points, it really isn’t anything. I feel like we just to more ‘us,’ to be able to play fearless and not be scared to lose. I feel like we need to be focusing on the little things and stop thinking about the bigger picture. We just need to block out, rebounding, go to the offensive glass and run it back in defense, getting stops and stuff like that.”


BYU is averaging 16,869 fans at Marriott Center home games, which tops the Big 12. Kansas is second at 16,300 and Texas Tech third at 14,626. The Cougars opponent on Saturday, Oklahoma State, is 13th in the league with an average of 7,122 fans at 13,000-seat Gallagher-Iba Arena.


At 10-14 overall and 2-9 in Big 12 play, Oklahoma State is currently mired in last place.

Which makes them the most dangerous team in the league, at least as far as BYU is concerned.

The young Cowboys lost their first six Big 12 games and have victories against West Virginia and Kansas State. Oklahoma State’s top player is 6-3 East Carolina transfer Javon Small, who is averaging 14.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 39% from the 3-point line. Three freshmen are in the top rotation including 6-11 center Brandon Garrison, who leads the team with 34 blocks.

“I think he’s really special in his ability to protect the rim,” Pope said. “He has the ability to run the floor, to change coverages defensively and guard multiple positions. His touch around the rim is actually pretty special out to 15 to 17 feet. I think he’s really impressive.”

Men’s College Basketball

No. 19 BYU (18-6, 6-5 Big 12) at Oklahoma State (10-14, 2-9 Big 12)

Saturday, noon MT

Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater

TV: None

Streaming: Big 12 Now/ESPN+

Radio: Sirius XM 143/BYU Radio.org/BYU Radio app/KSL 102.7 FM/1160 AM

Live stats: byucougars.com

The Word: BYU leads the overall series with Oklahoma State 4-3. .. The Cougars won the last meeting in 2003, a 76-71 victory in front of 16,285 fans at Delta Center in Salt Lake City when the Cowboys were ranked No. 25. Former BYU standout Rafael Araujo scored 32 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in that game. … The Cougars are second in the country in assists per game (19.4), 3-point attempts per game (32.2) and 3-pointers per game (11.6).


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