On Wednesday the next edition of the BYU Cougars vs Utah Utes rivalry will come back to Provo as the teams meet in the Marriott Center. The two teams have met 255 times with BYU holding the slight edge 129-126. The series started in 1909 and has continued to be hard fought in the games since. Right now the Cougars have the upper hand after winning eight of the last 10 meetings, but they received a beating in the Huntsman Center last year.
Salt Lake City, UT 2013 (64-81)
After going into the Huntsman Center with all the hype, the Cougars fell flat on their faces as they allowed the rival Utes to walk all over them in an 81-64 rout. Utah started strong building an 18-5 lead and built it to 23 in the second half. Tyler Haws led all Cougars with 14 points as the Cougars shot only 32 percent from the field. Eric Mika was ejected late in the second half for a flagrant 2 foul and the Cougars could never get into a rhythm on offense or defense.
This past Saturday, the Cougars started off slow in the first half once again, but made up the difference in the second. The Cougars continue to lead the nation in scoring as their 90-point outing versus Hawaii only dropped them to 94.6 points per game. The rough starts have become all too commonplace, but some of the sting is taken away with the wins and dominating second half performances. If the Cougars can't find a way to correct this trend, the rest of the season could be rough with teams like Utah, Stanford, UMass and Gonzaga still to come
For the second straight game the Cougars free throw shooting was outstanding. With another shooting percentage in the 80s the Cougars are making teams second guess their decision to foul. The 23 of 27 free therow shooting wasn't as impressive as the numbers from the Utah State game, but for a team that has struggled at the line it is a welcome change for the fans.
BYU is usually pretty good about sharing the ball, but against the Rainbow Warriors the Cougars played it to perfection. En route to the Cougars 90 points they hit 29 shots. Of those 29 shots the Cougars assisted on 23 of them. Once again the Cougars were led by Kyle Collinsworth as he dished out 10 assists and recorded the Cougars first triple double (19 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) in 26 years.
Turnovers hit the Cougars hard against Hawaii as they ended the game with 19, 13 of which were Hawaii steals. In one sequence of the game the Cougars managed turnovers on four straight possessions. Normally turnovers are a strength for BYU so it will be interesting to see how the team responds.
A trending concern with the Cougars is the lack of a presence in the paint. The Cougars recorded only three blocked shots on Saturday and all three were by guards. Nate Austin and Luke Worthington each played less than 15 minutes and Corbin Kaufusi played 16. As BYU's opponents become more physical throughout the season, BYU will need to throw its muscle around and start getting some offense and defense from its big guys.
Utah Defense vs. BYU Offense
The 13/14th ranked Utes are much improved from what BYU fans remember from a couple of years ago. Similar to their football team, defense is the backbone for the Utes and will win them a number of games. The Utes rank 25th in the country in scoring defense, allowing only 56.9 points per game, 7th in blocks per game with 6.9, and rank in the top 50 in defensive rebounds. With the Cougars bringing in the top scoring offense and assisting offense (20 assists per game) in the country, the clash between offense and defense should be an instant classic and the Cougars will need to use every advantage they can muster up.
The Keys to Watch
When the Utes have the ball:
Watch for the Utes to take smart, high percentage shots on offense. As a team they are shooting over 52 percent from the field, which is good enough for 8th in the country. Due in large part to their shooting percentage, the Utes are averaging over 80 points per game and almost 16 assists. Watch for senior guard Delon Wright to lead the team against the Cougars. Wright is averaging 15 points per game and 5.1 assists. He is hitting on almost 58 percent of his shots, including almost 47 percent from behind the arc. He isn't the only offense for the Utes, but he is a big part of it. Watch for him to take on an even larger role as Jordan Loveridge is out with an injury and the Utes look to replace Loveridge's 11.5 points per game. Watch for Jakob Poeltl to make his presence known inside as he averages almost a double-double with 12 points and 9.6 rebounds. Watch for the Utes rotation to allow a number of players to get their hands on the ball and make a difference, and forcing the Cougars to defend.
Watch for the Cougars to force the Utes into lower percentage shots and not give up the easy ones. Don't be surprised if the BYU bigs use up all their allotted fouls as they force the Utes to hit from the free throw line where they are only shooting 66.7 percent as a team. Watch for the Cougars to put a bit more pressure on the ball handler as they try to knock the ball away and increase the turnovers on a team that averages 13 turnovers per game. Watch for the Cougars to use their bench to throw out new looks and defensive options at an offense that could explode at any time.
When the Cougars have the ball:
Watch for the Cougars to share the ball even more than usual as they make the extra pass in order to break the tough Utah defense. Watch for more pull up jump shots and less drives to the basket when the Utes shot blockers are on the court, as the Cougars look to avoid the momentum killing blocked shots. Watch for Collinsworth to continue his torrid pace of 5.8 assists per game as he finds the open shooters like Haws, Chase Fischer, and Winder. Watch for the Cougars to push the pace as much as possible and protect the ball better than they did against Hawaii.
Watch for the Utes to let the Cougars know early that driving to the paint is a worthless endeavor. If the paint can be declared off limits by the Utes shot blockers, watch the defense to sag a bit as they push the Cougars further and further out of the comfort zones. Watch for the defense to limit Haws, but not stop him. The Utes know that if Haws scores twenty but the rest of the team struggles, Utah will be in a position to win the game. They won't make the mistake of trying to stop one player at the expense of letting the others run wild.
The Broadcasting Details
Time: 7 pm MST
Where: Marriott Center- Provo, Utah
Radio (BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143
Listen Live via Internet (KSL): Click Here