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Some bracketologists predict BYU is a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but head coach Mark Pope is trying to fine-tune BYU’s effort in the final weeks of Big 12 play. The goal? To obtain a good seed in Kansas City and the league tournament.

The first step after beating No. 11 Baylor 78-71 in the Marriott Center Tuesday is a trip to Kansas State. BYU has won five of its last seven games and three of the last four. KSU has lost seven of eight. 

This game should be one the Cougars could get on the road because games at Kansas and Iowa State loom on the horizon.  

Cougar Insiders predictions

Question of the week: How did BYU make such a turnaround on defense from the UCF and Oklahoma State games to defeat No. 11 Baylor, and what does that project for the Cougars in the days to come?

Jay Drew: Coach Mark Pope has continually said this season that BYU is a player-led team, and on Tuesday the Cougars showed that with a supreme defensive effort against a high-scoring Baylor team that was back at full strength with the return of Langston Love. Senior Jaxson Robinson said the guys got together after the 93-83 loss at Oklahoma State and vowed to improve on that end of the court.

“That wasn’t us,” Robinson said. He led the way on both ends of the court, scoring 16 points and also holding Baylor freshman Ja’Kobe Walter to 13 points on 3-of-9 shooting. Walter got the bulk of his points at the free-throw line.

Richie Saunders and Noah Waterman also played some lockdown defense, or at least they did after the first five minutes, when the Bears made their first three 3-pointers and nine of their first 11 shots. Pope and Robinson chalked it up to players trusting the system and executing Kahil Fennell’s game plan.

Can it continue? The jury is still out on that one. BYU has to prove it can play that kind of defense, without fouling, on the road. Two big tests in Kansas await — Saturday against K-State and then Tuesday at Phog Allen Fieldhouse against the vaunted Jayhawks. Check back in a week for a definitive answer.

Prediction: BYU 82, Kansas State 80.

Dick Harmon: What we saw against UCF and at Oklahoma State was a lack of energy and mental focus by BYU defenders. Kind of like players were waiting for others to pick things up and it never happened. You see this in the NBA all the time: When energy dips, so does effort.

Defense takes all five players working hard in unison. It takes paying attention to scouting reports, holding one another accountable and expending energy on defense, even at the expense of offense.

What we saw in the Baylor win in the Marriott Center is a player-led team that decided to commit to one another and the game plan. Even Aly Khalifa, who isn’t exactly a man on skates, got after it. Led by Richie Saunders’ energy, Noah Waterman’s hustle, Dallin Hall’s effort and Spencer Johnson’s nine rebounds, you saw players that took some pride in their work before a loud home crowd. I thought Saunders was an absolute animal against Baylor.

Jaxson Robinson’s block on Ja’Kobe Walter and Saunders’ slap of a shot by Jayden Nunn showed both BYU’s depth and effort on that side of the floor. What we saw in the Baylor win are players who really do care for one another.

Prediction: BYU 78, Kansas State 74.

Cougar tales

Aly Khalifa buried four 3-pointers and BYU handed No. 11 Baylor its worst loss of the season — a seven-point setback on Tuesday. Here is our coverage of that win after the Cougars lost to Oklahoma State on the road last Saturday:

  • Aly Khalifa’s antics lead to victory over Baylor (Dick Harmon)
  • BYU got the win it absolutely needed (Jay Drew)
  • Three keys to BYU’s win over Bears (Jay Drew)
  • BYU’s defense fell apart on a losing trip to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State. Here are reports from Jay Drew and Dick Harmon.

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Extra points

Fanalyst

Comments from Deseret News readers:

The win last night against No. 11 Baylor was huge, especially when you know three of BYU’s next four games are on the road at K-State, Kansas and Iowa State — and the one home game is against a very dangerous and talented TCU team. Just one win would actually be a good accomplishment. Yeeesh. This league is insanely good. Go Cougs!

— Befair

An enormously satisfying win. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Twenty assists against seven turnovers. Lots of O bounds leading to 20 second-chance points. Great spacing, ball movement and shot selection.

In our home, we were fortunate enough to have our eldest son, his sweet wife and their four boys, ages 5-13, laughing, joking, cheering, making jokes. Hard to beat this type of atmosphere.

Kinda felt bad for Caleb, especially after his air ball and falling asleep when his man Saunders’ backcut to convert a trademark Khalifa feed. Caleb did make a nice play on the transition alley oop.

— Mowgli54

Up next

Feb. 21 | 7 p.m. | Women’s basketball | TCU | @ Provo

Feb. 22 | 11:30 a.m. | Men’s tennis | Weber State | @ Ogden

Feb. 22 | 1 p.m. | Softball | Bethune-Cookman | @ Cathedral City, California

Feb. 22 | 3 p.m. | Baseball | UC Davis | @ Davis, California

Feb. 22 | 8 p.m. | Softball | UC Riverside | @ Cathedral City, California

Feb. 23-24 | Track and Field | Big 12 Indoor Championships | @ Lubbock, Texas

Feb. 23 | 3 p.m. | Women’s tennis | Fresno State | @ Fresno, California

Feb. 23 | 3 p.m. | Baseball | UC Davis | @ Davis, California

Feb. 23 | 4:30 p.m. | Softball | Long Beach State | @ Cathedral City, California

Feb. 23 | 7 p.m. | Men’s volleyball | UCLA | @ Provo

Feb. 23 | 7 p.m. | Women’s gymnastics | Denver | @ Provo

Feb. 23 | 12 p.m. | Men’s tennis | Idaho State | @ Provo

Feb. 24 | 12 p.m. | Men’s basketball | Kansas State | @ Manhattan, Kansas

Feb. 24 | 12 p.m. | Baseball | Cal Davis | @ Davis, California

Feb. 24  | 1 p.m. | Women’ tennis | Cal Poly | @ Fresno, California

Feb. 24 | 5 p.m. | Women’s basketball | Iowa State | @ Ames, Iowa