NORMAN, Okla. — The No. 21 BYU Cougars used the element of surprise early and often in playing .500 basketball through their first eight games in the Big 12, shocking some critics who thought they would get blown out in almost every game, especially on the road.
One night the Cougars would unleash their vaunted 3-point shooting attack; other nights they pounded the ball inside to Fousseyni Traore and became as adept at making 2-pointers as any team in the country.
Tuesday night in front of a sparse and somewhat sleepy midweek crowd at Lloyd Noble Center, announced as a meager 6,834, unranked Oklahoma turned the tables on BYU and surprised the Cougs with a defensive game plan that stifled the visitors.
Add it all up, and the result was one of those routs that was kind of expected for the Cougars to be on the wrong end of in their first year in this brutally difficult conference.
“I thought the same as coach said. They had a good game plan. It was a back-to-back on the road, so obviously there are a bunch of factors. Just not our night in that facet.” — BYU guard Dallin Hall.
Oklahoma broke from a halftime tie, took advantage of some of the worst defense BYU has played all season and exploited the Cougars’ lack of inside depth in an 82-66 romp.
It was BYU’s biggest loss in the Big 12 to date, and served notice to the Cougars that there are going to be nights like these.
“What is awesome (about the Big 12) is we get to deal with frustration tonight, tomorrow get fresh again and we have just as big of a game on Saturday (at home against Kansas State),” said BYU point guard Dallin Hall.
Oklahoma (5-5, 17-6) outscored the Cougars 48-32 in the second half, and 17-7 in the final four minutes, which would lead one to believe that BYU lost its legs.
The Cougars, with a rotation of only eight players, and missing big man Aly Khalifa (illness/injury) for the second straight game, sure looked road-weary and out of sorts in the second half.
That was evidenced by tons of missed shots inside — bunnies, as they call them — and an almost like total of shots that clanged off the front rim.
In the land of oil fields, BYU (4-5, 16-6) ran out of gas.
Coach Mark Pope and Hall didn’t see it that way, however.
“Always credit the other team. I thought they had a well thought-out approach to what they were going to give us, and what they weren’t going to give us,” Pope said of OU’s defense.
“And at the same time, every team will walk away and say, ‘Wow, it was one of those really frustrating nights in terms of finishing for us.’ But that happens, and you need to be able to overcome it. We couldn’t quite overcome it tonight.”
Hall, who made his first four 3-pointers to keep BYU reasonably in it until five minutes remained, missed his final three.
At one point BYU was 8 of 20 from 3-point range and big man Fousseyni Traore (21 points) was wheeling and dealing inside.
Then the Cougars imploded, forgot how to play defense and appeared a step slow to every loose ball.
“I thought the same as coach said. They had a good game plan. It was a back-to-back on the road, so obviously there are a bunch of factors,” Hall said. “Just not our night in that facet.”
The Cougars stayed Saturday night in West Virginia after knocking off the Mountaineers 86-73 to win their second straight game and four out of six to reach .500 in Big 12 play, then traveled to Norman on Sunday.
That day of rest apparently didn’t help.
“The travel is great in the Big 12,” Pope said, after having been lobbed a softball by a national reporter to find an excuse for the lackluster performance.
“We are really blessed. Everyone in this league is blessed that we are able to travel well and Norman is an unbelievable town. It was a real pleasure to be here for a couple of days, so the travel is good.”
It was fitting that the first half ended in a 34-34 tie, because there were six ties and nine lead changes in the first 20 minutes alone.
The Cougars more than looked competitive. They led by as many as six points a couple times in the first half, and probably should have led by more if not for some point-blank misses.
But they could never quite pull away while the crowd was quiet and many seemed to be mourning the loss of one of Oklahoma’s favorite sons, country music singer Toby Keith.
Hall’s 3-pointers gave BYU leads of 31-25 and 34-29 in the final five minutes of the half, but the Cougars didn’t score in the final 3:30, putting together five straight empty possessions. They would experience a similar, but more costly, drought in the second half.
Both teams made five 3-pointers in the half.
Traore led BYU with 11 in the first half on 5 of 9 shooting, while Hall was 3 for 3 from deep for nine. The rest of the Cougars were 2 of 8 from long range in the first half.
In the second half, BYU shot 31.3% and finished shooting 36%. That’s just not going to get it done in the Big 12.
Javian McCollum scored 15 of his team-high 20 points in the second half for the Sooners, while Milos Uzan added 16.
Oklahoma outshot BYU 23-12 from the free-throw line, but this wasn’t a case of home cooking. The Cougars were a step slow all night.
“They were pretty committed to making it a two-man game,” Pope said. “With so much, they just made it a two-man game and said, ‘Hey, we are going to guard you two-on-two and we are going to actually lean away. We are not going to bring extra bodies.’ And I thought they were committed to it and it was pretty successful for them today.”
In his return to the state he grew up in, Ada native Jaxson Robinson — BYU’s leading scorer — had just eight points on 2 of 7 shooting.
Noah Waterman was ill before the game and doubtful to play but gutted out 22 minutes and grabbed eight rebounds to offset a 1 of 5 shooting night.
Trevin Knell and Richie Saunders combined for just two points on 1 of 10 combined shooting.
Hall (17 points) and Spencer Johnson (10 points) were the only Cougars besides Traore in double figures.
Robinson “is a vet,” Pope said. “He is a terrific basketball player and he means so much to our team.
“We are putting him in a lot of tough positions. I am having him play the one, the two, the three and the four right now, and so we are asking a lot of him. He’s done a great job this season figuring it out.”
So have the Cougars — until an abnormal Tuesday night in Norman.