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Analysis: No. 21 BYU turns the tables on Texas, goes inside to take the Longhorns down

BYU shoots 60% from the floor and makes a season-low seven 3-pointers to defeat visiting Texas

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BYU Head Coach Mark Pope high fives fans after their win against Texas in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. BYU won 84-72.

Marielle Scott, Deseret News

Never let it be said again that the 2023-24 BYU Cougars can win playing only one style of basketball.

Case in point: Saturday afternoon’s 84-72 conquest of Texas, a crucial Big 12 matchup that saw the Cougars abandon their 3-point loving ways, take the ball inside as much as possible, get to the free-throw line a little bit more than usual and roll to a victory that might have saved their season.

“They had a game plan they were really committed to and they said we are not going to let you beat us the way you want to beat us. And they really did an incredible job, better than anyone else that we have faced so far in terms of being committed to that.” — BYU basketball coach Mark Pope.

“It was huge,” forward Jaxson Robinson said after combining with fellow senior Noah Waterman to score 34 points in BYU’s third Big 12 win.

The No. 21 Cougars improved to 3-4 in league play, 15-5 overall, and snapped a two-game losing streak in front of 17,978, a sellout, at the Marriott Center.

It was big because BYU’s next two games are on the road, beginning next Saturday at West Virginia and then Feb. 6 at No. 11 Oklahoma.

“It is not easy to win on the road, especially in this league,” Robinson continued. “We got to make sure we come in ready to fight, wherever we are at. I am really confident that this group is going to do it.”

BYU downed the Longhorns (3-4, 14-6) with a strategy it hasn’t deployed all season — relentless attacks to the rim. Amazingly, BYU outscored bigger, stronger Texas 40-26 in the paint.

Meanwhile, the Longhorns made more 3-pointers than the Cougars (8-7), a development that normally would have been positive for a BYU opponent.

But not this time.

BYU took a season-low 17 3-pointers and tied its season-low for 3-point makes (Utah) with seven. Yet the Cougars won going away, thanks to 64% shooting from the field.

It was above 70% at one point in the second half after BYU made nine straight shots to roll out to a 72-55 lead with 8:39 remaining.

Richie Saunders nailed a 3 to push BYU’s lead to 17 and the celebrating began.

“They had a game plan they were really committed to and they said we are not going to let you beat us the way you want to beat us,” BYU coach Mark Pope said of Texas, “and they really did an incredible job, better than anyone else that we have faced so far in terms of being committed to that.”

Who knew BYU could thrive in such a game?

The way the Cougars attacked the rim was surgical, as impressive as anything they’ve done all season that hasn’t included the 3-point line.

Waterman and Robinson led the way with 17 apiece — they were a combined 15 of 22 from the field — but it was the play of Fouss Traore off the bench that made the biggest difference.

Saddled with a nagging hamstring injury since November, Traore turned in one of his best games as a Cougar, 16 points on 6 of 7 shooting from the field and 4 of 4 from the line in 17 minutes.

BYU’s other post, Aly Khalifa, had eight assists in 21 minutes.

The benefactors were Robinson, Waterman, Saunders (11 points), Dallin Hall (eight points, four assists) and Spencer Johnson (11 points).

“That’s our answer. That is what we have to do,” Pope said. “So they made us do something different and the guys did their best job trying to execute it. I am super proud of them.”

Texas made its first four 3-point attempts and jumped out to a quick 16-10 lead, but the Cougars kept attacking inside and played some of their best basketball of the season midway through the first half in building a 41-33 lead with three minutes remaining.

But as they’ve done in their past two games, the Cougars had a letdown the final few minutes of the first half, and the Longhorns capitalized.

With BYU seemingly in control, Texas scored on five straight possessions to end the first half, and the visitors trailed just 44-41 at the break. It was the sixth time in seven Big 12 games that BYU led at the half.

This time, the Cougars kept rolling, aside from a span after the under 12 media timeout when Dylan Disu (19 points) heated up for the Horns. Texas cut BYU’s 17-point lead to 76-67 with a bucket by Disu.

But Traore hit a tough shot to right the Cougars, then two free throws after BYU corralled three offensive rebounds to prolong a possession, and the Cougars could breathe easier.

“We did a really good job neutralizing their made 3s, but they did a great job attacking the paint and we needed to put together some consecutive stops and we weren’t able to do that, so again, give them a lot of credit for what they were able to do today,” Texas coach Rodney Terry said.