BYU basketball: No. 18 cougars prepare for big test against unbeaten Utah

Four of the first five opponents of the No. 18 BYU this season played in the NCAA tournament last year.

Now the Cougars (5-0) are preparing for their rivals when they visit Utah on Saturday (7:30 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network) at the Huntsman Center.

It’s BYU’s first real street game of the season.

The Utes (5: 0) did not go to the Big Dance last year, but with a fresh start and a perfect record under a new coach, they are self-confident and want to get rid of a ranking opponent.

First year Utah coach Craig Smith led his team to a Sunshine Slam championship in Florida last week.

“It will be anything you want in a state game. Craig is a great trainer. They have a great team, a really experienced team. It’s a big game, “said BYU coach Mark Pope.

“You are unbeaten and have made a great start to the season. You played great basketball. You just won (the Sunshine Slam). Proud tradition. It will be great. These state games are really something special. “

Pope praised Smith, who had previously trained in the state of Utah.

“I have a lot of respect for him. I think he’s a great coach, ”said Pope. “He’s obviously had a great career. He makes his boys better. He’s a tough competitor … He’ll do a great job in Utah. Utah is really lucky to have it. “

The Utes’ top scorer is 7-foot center Branden Carlson, who averages 15.4 points per game, and David Jenkins, Jr., a UNLV transfer, averages 14.6 points.

Both Gach who left the Utes two years ago before returning this season have an average of 10.

Guard Marco Anthony averaged a team high of 8.4 rebounds per game and Guard Rollie Worster averaged a team high of 4 assists per game.

Both Anthony and Worster followed Smith from USU to Utah.

The last time the Cougars visited the Huntsman Center in December 2019, they built a 16 point lead in the second half, only to see Utah charging back and forcing overtime.

In OT, the Utes won a 102-95 win in Yoeli Childs’ first game of the season after falling out of the top nine due to an NCAA ban.

Children scored 29 points before being forced to take a break due to an injury.

A year ago in Provo, in front of an almost empty Marriott Center due to COVID-19, BYU dominated the boards, beating Utah 82:64.

Senior Transfer Te’Jon Lucas will play in his first cougar ute hoop game on Saturday. He got his first taste of the rivalry when he took part in the Cougars’ 26-17 victory over the Utes in football at LaVell Edwards Stadium in September.

“If you just go to the soccer game, it shows the effect and how committed each fan base is,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to being out there to play in it.”

Lucas scored a team high of 18 points, seven assists and no sales in BYU’s 81-64 win over Texas Southern on Wednesday.

Four other Cougars also scored in the double-digit range – Fousseyni Traore (a career high 13), Alex Barcello (12), Gavin Baxter (11) and Gideon George (10).

Barcello only took 3 shots out of 11 from the ground while George, who made just 1 out of 8 3-point attempts, scored 16 career-high rebounds.

As a team, BYU only shot 39%. The Cougars have to shoot much better against the Utes.

BYU’s best performance of the season was against a Pac-12 opponent on November 16 when they were No. 12 Oregon 81-49 at the Moda Center in Portland.

“Maybe I overestimated how much I wanted to know about my team at the beginning of the season,” said Pope.

But he likes the way his team goes, and he’s excited for Saturday’s challenge against Utah at the Huntsman Center.

“We’re going to fight, man,” said Pope. “We have a team that wants to fight.”

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