NORMAN, Oklahoma — BYU basketball coach Mark Pope has said over and over again that there’s very little margin for error for the Cougars in their inaugural season in the ultra-difficult Big 12.

That was quite evident Tuesday night at the half-filled Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, as shorthanded BYU wilted in the second half and fell 82-66 to an Oklahoma team that is talented, but was slumping prior to the Cougars’ first visit since 1986.

“Every night is a battle. You are playing against the best players in the country on a consistent basis and that’s all you can hope for as a competitor. ... We have just as big of a game on Saturday. That is what is awesome about this league.” — BYU guard Dallin Hall

“They had a tough little stretch, but they rebounded really well tonight, and played well, and had a good game plan,” Pope said of the Sooners, who improved to 5-5 in league play, 17-6 overall, and made a case to get back into the top 25.

“They played a little bit differently than they have been playing and they were prepared well,” Pope continued. “Proud of our guys for competing. We didn’t play well, but the guys competed and I am proud of that.”

As was detailed by the Deseret News, the Cougars (4-5, 16-6) missed far too many shots at the rim — 13, according to the box score — were too soft defensively in the second half and couldn’t keep OU off the free-throw line, among other issues. Of course, Oklahoma had a lot to do with that. 

Coach Porter Moser honored country music singer Toby Keith, who passed away Monday, after the game and said the Sooners were determined to win for the OU superfan.

BYU’s players were less inspired, perhaps wearied by being out on the road for five days. The Cougars were also without big man Aly Khalifa, and power forward Noah Waterman was ill but still logged 22 minutes.

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But point guard Dallin Hall refused to use the shorthandedness as an excuse, saying that on this night the Sooners simply played better.

“Every night is a battle. You are playing against the best players in the country on a consistent basis and that’s all you can hope for as a competitor,” Hall said. “… We have just as big of a game on Saturday. That is what is awesome about this league.”

Saturday, BYU plays host to Kansas State (5-5, 15-8), which upset No. 4 Kansas 75-70 in overtime Monday night behind 26 points from point guard Tylor Perry, a North Texas transfer.

Halfway through the Big 12 season, BYU has exceeded expectations, but needs to get healthy for the stretch run. Now No. 8 in the NET rankings and No. 11 in Kenpom.com, the Cougars can probably make the NCAA Tournament by going 4-5 in the second half of the league campaign.

So that’s the good news. Also, five of their remaining nine games are at the Marriott Center. None of the remaining nine games are gimmes; they never will be in this league. But it is time for Pope’s team to get back to the form that led it to its most impressive win to date — the 87-72 victory over Iowa State on Jan. 16 at home.

BYU has eight players who are averaging 17 minutes or more per game, starting with Fouss Traore (17.6) and ending with Hall (28.0). All eight have played in the same game only eight times — in 22 games, per Greg Wrubell of the BYU Sports Radio Network.

Big man Atiki Ally Atiki is averaging 12.5 minutes per game, and has shown flashes of brilliance, but can’t stay out of foul trouble. His 55 fouls leads the team.

Cougars on the air


Kansas State (5-5, 15-8)
at No. 21 BYU (4-5, 16-6)
Saturday, 8 p.m. MST
Marriott Center, Provo, Utah
TV: ESPN2
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM


That the gimmes wouldn’t fall Tuesday was somewhat surprising, considering that BYU shoots 59% from inside the arc, the fifth-best two-point shooting percentage in the country. Bench scoring is also a BYU strength, but Richie Saunders and Trevin Knell combined to go 1 of 10 (0 of 4 from 3-point range) and the reserves were outscored by OU’s bench, 23-7.

Offensive rebounding was OK near OKC — BYU had nine to OU’s 4 — but the Cougars got just two second-chance points, a season low. 

Pope credited OU for dictating pace and tempo, getting the Cougars to play impatiently, and capitalizing on some mismatches.

“This whole experience for us right now is really special, and being a part of this league is incredible. For anybody who loves to compete, this is like heaven,” Pope said. “Being in this league and being able to go compete each night and be in great venues every night, playing against teams every night, great coaches every night, is awesome.”

Oklahoma center John Hugley IV (1) and guard Trevin Knell, right, vie for the ball during a game against Oklahoma Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, in Norman, Okla.
Oklahoma center John Hugley IV (1) and guard Trevin Knell, right, vie for the ball while BYU forward Fousseyni Traore (45) watches during a game against Oklahoma Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, in Norman, Okla. | Garett Fisbeck, Associated Press