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Field Level Media - Professional sports content solutions | FLM

Jan 12, 2024 5:14 pm

UCF rides momentum of major upset into date with No. 18 BYU

UCF gets a second crack at being a giant slayer against a Top 25 opponent Saturday when it hosts No. 18 BYU in Orlando.

The Knights (10-4, 1-1 Big 12) pulled off a shocker Wednesday when they rallied from a double-digit deficit to take down No. 3 Kansas 65-60 in their Big 12 home opener. UCF had been only 1-11 against top-five opponents and that lone win came back against UConn in 2011.

“It just shows we can compete at the highest level,” guard Darius Johnson said. “(Kansas) is clearly a great basketball team. It just shows we can beat them, compete and be a postseason team.”

Kansas, which committed 18 turnovers and had seven of its shots blocked, hit just 32 percent of its field-goal tries in the first half against a tough Knights defense despite leading by as many as 16 points before halftime.

“We committed. Everyone had to lock in on defense,” said forward Ibrahima Diallo, who put UCF ahead for good on a hook shot with fewer than three minutes left. “It was a defensive game. All my teammates, we locked in on defense. That made the offense be easier.”

Jaylin Sellers led the Knights with 18 points and Johnson added 17 in a statement-making win for a UCF team picked to finish last in the Big 12 this season.

UCF bounced back from a 25-point drubbing against Kansas State in its inaugural Big 12 game. The Knights can make an even bigger statement when they face the Cougars this weekend.

BYU (12-3, 0-2) is still searching for its first Big 12 win after opening league play with back-to-back losses to the Cincinnati Bearcats and Baylor Bears. The Cougars have struggled to find consistency on offense and their defense faded after halftime in both games.

This will be BYU’s second straight road game this week after falling to the No. 14 Bears 81-72 on Tuesday in Waco, Texas. BYU held a six-point halftime lead and went up 45-36 early in the second half on back-to-back 3-pointers from Trevin Knell, who finished with a team-high 15 points.

Things quickly unraveled for the Cougars amid a flurry of fouls and turnovers. Baylor surged ahead for good with three straight baskets to take a 61-57 lead.

In their two losses, the Cougars have averaged 16 turnovers while allowing 17.5 points off those turnovers. Their past two opponents have also attempted a combined 52 free throws.

“We can’t be a 16-turnover team in this conference,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “It just doesn’t work with what we do.”

The biggest frustration for the Cougars lies in the fact that it blew early second-half leads in both Big 12 losses. BYU experienced prolonged shooting droughts down the stretch against both Baylor and Cincinnati after being seemingly unstoppable on offense during nonconference play.

The Cougars are confident they can turn the corner again and regain their footing in their new league.

“We understand what we signed up for, that we’re a really good team, and that we have areas where we were exposed and we can get better,” Pope said.

– Field Level Media

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