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Why Atiki Ally Atiki’s alley-oop ‘aerial game’ is giving BYU a big boost

Ally Atiki scored a career-high 12 points in the Cougars’ victory over San Diego. BYU hosts No. 9 Gonzaga Thursday

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BYU Cougars forward Atiki Ally Atiki (wearing black) drives against Westminster Griffins forward/center Trey Farrer (wearing white).

FILE - BYU Cougars forward Atiki Ally Atiki (4) drives against Westminster Griffins forward/center Trey Farrer (21) during the game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Ally Atiki scored a career-high 12 points in a. win over San Diego.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SAN DIEGO — Thanks to a 68-48 trouncing of San Diego Saturday at Jenny Craig Pavilion, BYU split its Southern California road trip after falling Thursday at Loyola Marymount.

The Cougars (13-6, 3-1) return home with a showdown against No. 9 Gonzaga Thursday (7:30 p.m. MST, ESPN) and they will host Pepperdine Saturday. 

“I feel like everyone will feel good about themselves, wake up (Sunday) and Monday when we get to the facility, we’ll focus on Gonzaga coming into town,” said guard Rudi Williams, who scored 13 against the Toreros.

Thursday marks the final time BYU and the Zags will square off at the Marriott Center in a West Coast Conference contest.

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s remain the only unbeaten teams in WCC play while BYU and Pacific have one loss each. 

“I think we’re the only team in the league that’s had three of their first four games on the road,” said coach Mark Pope. “For a young team, that’s really hard. It’s hard to be on the road for three of your first four. For these guys to go 3-1 — it’s not perfect but I’m really proud of them. They’ve won eight of nine (games). That’s something for this team. That’s a huge accomplishment for this group.”

One Cougar that has made big strides this season is 6-foot-10 forward Atiki Ally Atiki, who scored a career-high 12 points against San Diego. 

The sophomore made 4 of 6 shots from the field and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line to go along with one blocked shot, three rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes of action. 

Pope is pleased with Ally Atiki’s progress on both sides of the floor. 

“What Atiki has really done defensively right now, we’ve really challenged our two 5s to start switching a lot, guarding point guards and two-guards. His effort was really phenomenal. He was terrific,” he said.

“He made simple decisions in the post. For the most part, he was rolling really hard and catching balls. We’re using Atiki right now as a key point in our basic transition offense … He’s grown so much and we’ll see him continue to take big jumps because in some areas, he’s grown so much that there’s a couple of areas that are holding him back so we don’t see all of that yet. But I was super proud of him.”

Atiki hails from Tanzania. His host family from Canada attended both of BYU’s games over the weekend to watch him play. 

“I know it’s really important for him to play well,” Pope said. “They’ve been so important to him. It was awesome for him to do that in front of them.”

Two of the most memorable plays Saturday at San Diego were alley-oop dunks by Atiki on passes from Jaxson Robinson.

BYU/Zags

Cougars on the air


No. 9 Gonzaga (14-3, 3-0)
at BYU (13-6, 3-1)
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. MST
Marriott Center
TV: ESPN
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM

“His aerial game is really important for us. After (former BYU player) Gavin (Baxter) went down last year, it was the first time we hadn’t had an aerial game. To start to get that back into the game is really important for us because it makes the scout different,” Pope said.

“When you have to account for that, and it’s in your mind, it opens up so much. Our guys have gotten more comfortable throwing it to him, which really isn’t that complicated because you throw it anywhere within 10 feet of the hoop and he’s going to go get it. He’s become really comfortable catching the ball. We’ve seen him finish in the air a lot. His poise is going to continue to grow and I thought he was terrific.”