BYU basketball overcomes turnovers, pulls away from Portland

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BYU’s Gideon George (5) shoots inside during the Cougars’ 71-58 win over Portland at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. George led the Cougars with 20 points and nine rebounds.


If there’s one thing that should be on BYU’s list of New Year’s resolutions, it’s probably cutting down on turnovers.

That’s something that’s vexed the Cougars all season and they were in the giving mood again on New Year’s Eve Saturday night at the Marriott Center against Portland in their West Coast Conference home opener. 

In the first half, the Pilots outscored BYU 17-0 on points off turnovers and the two teams were tied at halftime. 

But thanks to a strong second half, the Cougars overcame those miscues and pulled away from Portland, posting a 71-58 victory. 

In the second half, BYU turned things around, outscoring the Pilots 12-3 in points off turnovers. 

With the win, the Cougars extended their winning streak to seven games. They improved to 12-5 overall and 2-0 in WCC play.

“For this team to (win seven straight) on the heels of a really rocky start, it was in the cards for us, for these guys to just gut their way through this,” coach Mark Pope told BYU Radio. “I couldn’t be prouder or happier for them. It’s a real tribute to these kids.”

Gideon George led the way for BYU, recording in a team-high 20 points — including 15 over the final 20 minutes — on 8 of 17 shooting from the floor. He also pulled down a game-high nine rebounds. 

Atiki Ally Atiki scored all eight of his points in the second half. Fousseyni Traore finished with 12 points and eight rebounds and Spencer Johnson added nine points. 

For the game, BYU outshot Portland 49% to 38%. In the second half, the Cougars hit 16 of 25 shots from the floor — 64%.

BYU held Portland to 6 of 21 shooting from 3-point range. 

“We took a long look at ourselves two weeks ago as it was becoming abundantly clear that we were a massive disaster guarding the 3,” Pope said. “We schematically changed a lot of things. We were getting stuck in rotations so much. … We made a lot of adjustments.”

“This team is so new and so young, they are literally figuring things out before our eyes and getting live reps before our eyes. I thought that was incredible tonight, watching them. It was super fun for me.” — BYU coach Mark Pope

And those adjustments are paying off. 

Meanwhile, the Cougars outrebounded the Pilots 37-26. On the other hand, they ended up with 19 turnovers.

But Pope was pleased with the way his players figured things out and had turned in a strong second half. 

“This team is so new and so young, they are literally figuring things out before our eyes and getting live reps before our eyes,” he said. “I thought that was incredible tonight, watching them. It was super fun for me.”

Portland (8-9, 0-2) was shorthanded Saturday, playing without its top two scorers Saturday, Tyler Robertson and Moses Wood. 

But 6-foot-8 Norwegian forward Kristian Sjolund more than compensated. He poured in a game-high 32 points on 10 of 19 shooting from the field, including three 3-pointers, before fouling out late in the contest. 

Sjolund put on a show, scoring more than half of his team’s points. 

BYU led 17-9 midway through the first half and appeared to be running away with the game as Portland missed its first 10 shots from the field. 

But the Cougars went nearly five minutes without scoring during a stretch that saw them turn the ball over seven times. Portland capitalized, going on a 12-0 run, including nine consecutive points by Sjolund. 

The Pilots seized their first lead, 21-17, and at that point, the Pilots had scored 14 off of BYU turnovers. 

Thanks to a bucket by George, and a 3-pointer by Dallin Hall to end the half, the score was knotted up at halftime 26-26.

To open the second half, George hit a couple of big 3-pointers, and Noah Waterman added another 3, to help the Cougars get some breathing room, 38-29. 

BYU maintained its lead, but it was still too close for comfort. 

The Cougars led 52-45 before a Johnson layup, followed by six straight points by Atiki, and a huge 3-pointer by Jaxson Robinson. That lifted BYU to its largest lead of 14 points — 63-49 — with 4:56 remaining. 

From there, the Cougars cruised to the victory. 

With the win, BYU is now 9-5 all-time on New Year’s Eve. The Cougars are 15-0 all-time at home against Portland. 

BYU visits Loyola Marymount Thursday.

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