Because BYU doesn’t play or practice on Sunday, for religious reasons, all these Tuesday basketball games in the Big 12 would seemingly put the Cougars at a minor disadvantage.

But coach Mark Pope and his team could not care less about that. Just being in this league widely viewed as the best in America overcomes any downsides.

“I don’t know if I am allowed to say this, but this sure feels like basketball heaven, doesn’t it? I mean, basketball heaven would be us being 8-0 right now in league. But in terms of everything you love as an athlete, this is it.” — BYU coach Mark Pope

“I don’t know if I am allowed to say this, but this sure feels like basketball heaven, doesn’t it?” Pope told the BYU Sports Radio Network Saturday night after BYU (4-4, 16-5) rolled past West Virginia 86-73 in Morgantown. “I mean, basketball heaven would be us being 8-0 right now in league. But in terms of everything you love as an athlete, this is it.”

Heaven, or the gauntlet of difficult opponents, continues this week as BYU, ranked No. 21 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll and No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, tests unranked Oklahoma at 11,562-seat Lloyd Noble Center Tuesday night at 6 p.m. MST.

Oklahoma (4-5, 16-6) was in the top 25 before falling at UCF on Saturday, and has lost three of its last four. But the Sooners are 11-2 at 49-year-old Noble Center this season, and should have a crowd of 10,000-plus awaiting the Cougars.

Oklahoma drew 11,092 for its 75-60 loss to Texas on Jan. 23 and 10,890 for its 85-84 loss to Texas Tech on Jan. 27.

“I feel like a little kid, and my guys are taking it in, too. I hope Cougar Nation is also, because not everybody gets to do this,” Pope said of BYU’s inaugural season in the Big 12. “And our guys are doing it and they are doing it right, and they are doing it together, and it is never going to be easy, but man, it is fun and rewarding.”

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Of course, not many figured BYU would be .500 in league play at this juncture, after losing its first two, to Cincinnati and Baylor. The Cougars are alone in seventh place in the Big 12, and in the upper half of the league standings for the first time.

How long will the fun last?

Probably as long as they continue to display the ability to finish games, after failing to do so in almost every conference loss. BYU finished strong in its last two games, good enough to knock off Texas and WVU by double digits.

“Everyone’s dream is to compete at the highest level. That’s all we have ever wanted since we were young. To have a platform, a place where we can do that every night is a dream come true,” said BYU point guard Dallin Hall. “We are just trying to relish it and really enjoy it and have fun while we are out there playing because that is why we play basketball. … It is a blast, man, and we are just getting started. So we are excited. Let’s go.”

Pope said during the last two games the conversations during timeouts in the second half have been about tightening the defense and dominating the defensive glass to not allow opponents second-chance opportunities. That’s how Cincinnati, Houston and Texas Tech were able to get past BYU in January games.

“Our guys were laser-focused on doing everything they can on the defensive end to win the game,” he said. “It is just the way you have to do it. So much of our offense is predicated on what we do on defense. That will not change as we go through the season. That is going to continue to be an emphasis.”

Oklahoma might have the second-best perimeter defense in the Big 12, behind No. 5 Houston (19-3). The Sooners are No. 5 in the country in 3-point percentage defense (28.2%).

BYU, which has now been ranked for 11 straight weeks, the fourth-longest streak of being ranked in school history, made 13 3-pointers to knock off WVU. The Cougars average 12.1 triples per game, No. 1 in the country. BYU is also No. 2 in scoring margin (18.4 points), No. 2 in assists (20.1) and No. 4 in assist-turnover ratio (1.82).

Cougars on the air


No. 21 BYU (4-4, 16-5)
at Oklahoma (4-5, 16-6)
Tuesday, 6 p.m. MST
Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, Oklahoma
TV: ESPN+
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

Hall averages 5.0 assists per game.

“What is fantastic about this team is that it doesn’t matter who I spray it out to, it is a guy who can score,” Hall said. “That is hard for defenses to guard. They make the game really easy for me, as far as reads, because it is just one through five, like whoever helps, we make them pay with that guy.”

BYU played without starting center Aly Khalifa against WVU, while starting power forward Noah Waterman was ill but still logged 16 minutes. Making his first start since late November, Fousseyni Traore scored a season-high 24 points in BYU’s second Big 12 road win.

BYU players meet on the court during game against West Virginia on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in Morgantown. | Kathleen Batten, Associated Press