BYU Basketball: Cougars, Aztec Showdown Could Impact NCAA
PROVO – The basketball rivalry between BYU and San Diego State has been going on for years, highlighted by the epic duels between Jimmer Fredette and Kawhi Leonard a decade ago.
It’s heated up again since the two programs clashed in the last two seasons. And those two games were unforgettable.
In 2019, the Aztecs defeated the Cougars at the Marriott Center, 76-71. It marked the first loss of coach Mark Pope as head coach of BYU.
In 2020, in an empty Viejas Arena, the Cougars nearly screwed up a 17-point lead in the second half before Brandon Averette knocked down a 3-pointer with 52 seconds left as BYU took a 72-62 win over the No. 18 arrested Aztecs. It snapped the Cougars’ four-game loss to SDSU and spoiled a 35-point performance from Aztec security guard Matt Mitchell.
BYU and San Diego State collide again on Friday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) in front of an expected large crowd at the Marriott Center.
“I love this matchup. It was so devastating when we lost here two years ago, “said Pope. “And then it was such a rush when we won there last year. We are something like two top 25 conference teams that are not among the power five. ”
Meanwhile, the Cougars in the background of this game have picked up a lot of momentum after accepting an invitation to the Big 12 in the country from September 2023.
Rivalry aside, the BYU-SDSU game on Friday is a big preseason showdown for both teams. It’s considered one of the nation’s best Friday games and both teams want to create their NCAA tournament résumés.
“We beat them in their place two years ago, they beat us in our place last year. So the home court did not stop the last two sessions. Hopefully this will continue where we can get into Provo and find a way to beat the good BYU team. ”- San Diegoo State Coach Brian Dutcher
SDSU, which opened the season with a 66-53 win over UC Riverside, ranks 33rd on KenPom.com’s rankings. BYU, which opened with a 69-59 win over Cleveland State, ranks 39th.
Last season’s win in San Diego helped the Cougars earn a No. 6 in the NCAA tournament.
Pope is grateful that SDSU trainer Brian Dutcher was ready to continue the series.
“The fact that they are so excited to play against us and we are so excited to play against them. There are so many people to play with and (Dutcher) say ‘let’s go play’. They are good and they are physical and they guard, ”Pope said. “And they are long. You are just a problem.
“Every year we’ve played against them we’ve learned so much about our team and given each other the chance to do even better. It’s going to be a great matchup. It’s going to be an amazing gym. It’s going to be a huge event for us. ”
Dutcher knows this is a great opportunity for his team too.
“We beat them in their place two years ago, they beat us in our place last year. So the home court didn’t stop the last two sessions, ”he said. “So hopefully this continues where we can get into Provo and find a way to get a win against the good BYU team.”
After the Aztec victory last Tuesday, Guardian Trey Pulliam made it clear that he has not forgotten what happened last year.
“It’s definitely a game we want to win,” he said. “We want that back.”
Cal Transfer Guard Matt Bradley scored 23 points and Pulliam added 15 for SDSU in his opener.
The BYU players haven’t forgotten last year’s game either. You can’t wait for another rematch.
“I love it. I’m so looking forward to it. I don’t know if it’s called a rivalry, but there is some tension with the state of San Diego,” said senior guard Alex Barcello. “It’s fun against really talented teams I think they’re a tournament team this year. They’re going to have a great season as they always do. “
What does Cougar Guard Spencer Johnson remember about the anger of the SDSU last year?
“I remember we won. We’re trying to do it again this year, ”he said. “Your defense strategy was really good. We punched them in the mouth when they came out and they tried to sneak up on us. In the end we won. It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’ll also have fans. Last year there was an empty gym. That was a little strange. But getting our fans in there will be huge for us. “
Pope has said he wants to put together a tough preseason schedule because he knows he will show his team how to improve.
Barcello accepts these challenges.
“It’s fun because it shows us how (as opposed to Cleveland State), what we’re made of and what we need to improve,” said Barcello. “We come out with some positives. It will be another test of how good we are on Friday. They are a really tough team. They’ll come in here and try to blow us away. I’m definitely looking forward to it. “
Barcello scored 24 points against Cleveland State and made 13 of 13 off the free-throw line, while striker Caleb Lohner took nine high-score rebounds. Johnson scored 13 points, including two 3-pointers, and finished the game with three rebounds and a key block in the final minutes of the game.
Johnson said beating a tough, physical Cleveland State team was crucial to start the season.
“It’s huge. We have a lot of new people who have come in and are learning our system,” he said. “They are learning how we do things and I think we responded wonderfully to how we played together. We fought through Frustration and we held out. I was so happy about that. “
The cougars hope for another happy result on Friday evening.