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Nov 30, 2023 11:15 am

No. 19 BYU looks to continue ascent vs. Fresno State

For the first time in two years, BYU is ranked in The Associated Press Top 25.

That may come as a surprise to some. After all, the No. 19 Cougars are off to a 6-0 start despite being picked to finish second-to-last in the Big 12 while returning most of the team that finished a disappointing 19-15 in 2022-23.

Forward Noah Waterman, among the Cougars’ pleasant surprises, said the players’ confidence in themselves and in each other grew over the offseason. BYU will carry that confidence into December and Friday’s game against Fresno State (3-3) in Salt Lake City.

“Everybody is just a lot more confident,” Waterman said in a BYU Sports Nation interview. “We just trust each other.”

BYU’s balance is a strength. Seven Cougars average at least 9.5 points per game, with Jaxson Robinson leading the way with 15.3 points. Waterman averages 12.5 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds. Trevin Knell (12.3), Spencer Johnson (10.8) and Fousseyni Traore (10.2) also average double figures.

The Cougars average 12.5 3-pointers and 47.3 rebounds, including 14.7 offensive boards an outing. Those two statistics complement each other, according to Waterman.

“We shoot a lot of 3s, but we have this new thing where everybody’s crashing the offensive glass and wedging,” he said. “If we miss a 3, which we haven’t lately, we’re going to get the offensive rebound and get a second chance. That’s the main difference from last year.”

As a result, BYU is outscoring opponents 92.3-60.2.

“Everything starts with our defensive end,” said Waterman, who played two seasons at Detroit Mercy before transferring to BYU.

“Sometimes we start off slow on the offensive end, but we’re not letting the other team score. I think if we keep up our defense, we’re a really special team.”

Fresno State enters this neutral-site contest on the heels of two losses, including a 95-64 setback to No. 22 James Madison on Nov. 22 and a 69-65 loss to UC Santa Barbara on Monday.

The Bulldogs trailed by 13 points with 51 seconds remaining against the Gauchos when they rallied to within two before falling short.

Isaiah Hill scored eight of his team-high 19 points in Fresno State’s wild 11-0 run late in regulation. He also had eight assists.

Coach Justin Hutson said he’ll continue to evaluate players to give his team the best chance to win. The Bulldogs, picked eighth of 11 MWC teams in the preseason poll, have seven games in December before conference play.

“It’s about playing the right way. It’s not juggling or being patient. I’m not sacrificing wins trying to be patient, and I’m also not going to not be patient so we can win,” he said. “It’s more playing the guys who deserve to play, and you’re continuing to get information on what guys do in a game setting.”

BYU leads the series with Fresno State 13-5, including an 83-56 victory in their most recent meeting in November 2020.

–Field Level Media

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