BYU's hot shooting propels them past UCF and into the next round of the Big 12 Tournament

BYU beat the UCF Knights in their first Big 12 Tournament game.

Fousseyni Traore shoots a putback layup against UCF
Fousseyni Traore shoots a putback layup against UCF / Jay Biggerstaff/GettyImages

BYU won their first conference tournament game on Tuesday when they defeated the UCF Knights 87-73 in the Big 12 Tournament second round. BYU's hot shooting put the Cougars ahead early and kept UCF's comeback efforts at bay. The Knights played hard from start to finish and their defensive length clearly bothered the Cougars at time.

Mark Pope's squad opened the game with a 21-3 run. BYU couldn't miss from 3, and their rebounding was too strong for a UCF team that came out of the gates looking flat and stunned. They outscored the Cougars for the remainder of the half, though they entered the halftime break down 9.

The Knights' point guard, Darius Johnson had one of the best games of his season, knocking down shot after shot of step-backs, fallaways, and contested jumpers that just kept falling. He finished the game with 32 points, 3 assists, and 4 steals--his effort really bothered the Cougars' offense.

Darius Johnson
UCF's Darius Johnson scores in traffic against BYU / Jay Biggerstaff/GettyImages

UCF cut BYU's lead to 3 points on the back of Johnson's heroics, but that was the closest they would get to taking the lead back, as BYU picked up the slack and heated up from beyond the arc. BYU shot 47.2% from the field and 46.7% from beyond the arc. If we've learned anything about BYU this season, it's that when they are hitting their 3s, you're in trouble. At the high volume that BYU fires them, they're nearly impossible to beat if they hit 14 3s like they did in this game.

Fousseyni Traore led a very balanced scoring night for his squad, dropping 14 points to pair with Richie Saunders and Dallin Hall contributing 13 points each. Saunders took a while to heat up but hit some timely shots down the final stretch to combat UCF's comeback efforts. Aly Khalifa was also brilliant in this game, dishing out 5 assists to his cutting teammates. The Knights had no answer for Khalifa in the early game, which was essential for their early run.

The Cougars moved the ball very well in this game, and the box score reflected that with the Cougars collectively dishing out 18 assists. Spencer Johnson contributed a stellar 7 assists of his own, along with 8 rebounds and 9 points--shockingly close to a triple double.

Shemarri Allen, Richie Saunders
Richie Saunders pins UCF's layup attempt against the glass / Jay Biggerstaff/GettyImages

Do you remember when I mentioned that UCF brought the lead back to within 3 in the second half? BYU has struggled with maintaining double-digit leads against Big 12 opponents, and we saw a bit of that during this game. UCF shot 40.9% from long range in this game, which was higher than they shot from the field as a whole. UCF has been a poor shooting team all year, shooting 31.8% on the year, and BYU's defense clearly wasn't enough to bother them during their runs.

With that said, basketball is a game of runs, and some hot shooting against BYU is inevitable with the level of competition they have to face. Time to give credit to the Cougars, though. They scored when it mattered most, and whenever UCF made a run, BYU responded with their own. Winning in the Big 12 Tournament will be challenging, so a 13-point win in the opening round should improve your confidence in BYU's next games.

BYU will move on to face 4th-seeded Texas Tech tomorrow, March 14th at 10:30 AM MST on ESPN2.

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