BYU Men’s Hoops: Cougars vs. Wolverines will be a big deal
Plenty of preseason men’s college basketball games are snoozers. You have buy games for a small-conference opponent or matchups that are just ho-hum.
Then there is Wednesday’s BYU-Utah Valley game.
On the local scene there won’t be many contests that move the needle like this year’s Crosstown Clash. It’s the biggest athletic event ever staged at the UCCU Center, which officially seats 8,500 for hoops but will overflow on Wednesday.
The final 1,700 tickets were sold on Monday morning in about 90 minutes, resulting in the first sellout in the Wolverines’ Division I history.
“We always talk about these local games and how fun they are for the basketball fans in the state of Utah,” BYU coach Dave Rose said on his weekly coach’s show. “We kind of condensed it for all the fans right here in the county. It should be really competitive game and should be a great atmosphere. We’re in that in-state grind where everybody knows everybody.”
No one has to be reminded about last year’s game, a stunning 114-101 Utah Valley victory in Provo. The Wolverines shot lights out, making a Marriott Center-record 18 3-pointers and dominating the game.
“It was as good as anybody has shot the ball from the perimeter against us,” Rose said. “I do know that the way that they play it’ll be a really difficult matchup for our guys defensively. We’ll have to really be on it and do a much better job than we did last year.”
UVU brought this season in with a bang, playing the “Toughest 24 Hours of Basketball” with back-to-back losses at No. 5 Kentucky and No. 1 Duke. Since then, the Wolverines have won four games in a row including Saturday’s 83-75 overtime victory at North Dakota.
Many of the players who toyed with BYU last year return, including former Cougar Isaac Nielson – 26 points on 10 of 12 shooting in last season’s win – point guard Brandon Randolph (21 points and 14 assists) and shooting guard Conner Toolson. The Wolverines’ biggest addition this year is 7-foot center Akolda Manyang (17 points, nine rebounds per game) who will be a handful for a BYU front line depleted due to injury.
“They’re older than we are, a lot older,” Rose said, noting that the Wolverines start three fifth-year seniors. “They’re the 15th oldest (most experienced) team in the NCAA. We’re tracking at about 305 somewhere with our young guys. I know they’re excited to play and they’re looking forward to it.”
BYU recovered from a double-digit deficit to edge UMass on Saturday, courtesy of a drive-and-dish from junior college transfer Jahshire Hardnett to Yoeli Childs for the game-winning dunk. The Cougars are a little banged up in the post position with 6-11 Ryan Andrus and 6-9 Braiden Shaw missing the first six games of the season due to injury. Slowing down Manyang will be a challenge.
Only one starter from that 2016 BYU-UVU matchup – sophomore guard T.J. Haws — will be in the starting lineup for the Cougars on Wednesday. But familiarity is everywhere. UVU head coach Mark Pope and assistant Cody Fueger were once assistants for Rose. Nielson and sophomore guard Cory Calvert were once on the BYU basketball team and at one time, BYU’s Dalton Nixon and UVU’s Jake Toolson were roommates during their freshmen seasons in Provo.
“It’ll be the first time for our guys (in the UCCU Center),” Rose said. “I’ve coached over there a few times when I was at Dixie. Maybe the last time it was sold out was our Dixie-UVU game years ago. When the place is full and the stands are pulled out, it’s a great environment.”
Haws had a tough night against the Wolverines last time (6 points on 1 of 10 shooting) but said the Cougars will be ready.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Haws said. “(Wednesday) will be fun and there will be a lot of people there. We’ll have to be ready right from the start. They came out really tough last year. There’s just a few of us on the team from last year, but we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”