BYU Seeks Answers Heading Into Rivalry Clash With Utah
PROVO, Utah – In a year where college hoops are being played in empty arenas, BYU basketball can’t rely on its typical homecourt advantage at the magical Marriott Center. That was on display earlier this week when Boise State jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the Cougars and pulled off a wire-to-wire upset.
“We’ve got to learn home court advantage really isn’t as big in a normal year,” said BYU forward Matt Haarms. “We can’t just trust our fans to get us back into it. We’ve got the fake crowd noise, but we really don’t have that 10, 15,000 strong crowds. So we’ve got to get ourselves ready for games.”
BEAT UTAH!! pic.twitter.com/OnkB8CE1wX
— BYU Basketball (@BYUbasketball) December 11, 2020
There shouldn’t be much motivation needed for BYU (5-2) to get ready for what is ahead on Saturday afternoon as the Cougars welcome rival Utah (2-0) to the Marriott Center for the first time in three years (BYUtv, 4 p.m.).
BYU Basketball preparing for a battle against Utah
Last season, BYU lost to Utah at the Huntsman Center in a game that they were favored to win. Mark Pope has never defeated Larry Krystkowiak in a game as head coach. He’s 0-2 against the Utah head man dating back to his time on the bench with Utah Valley.
Since Pope became BYU’s head coach, his teams have never lost back-to-back games.
“This is going to be our toughest challenge; this is the best team we’ve played all season. I think they’re a top 50 team right now,” said Pope on the BYU Sports Network (KSL NewsRadio). “They’re coming off a lot of rest and a lot of time to prep for us. Just like it seems like every team we’re playing right now has had a week to prepare for us. They’re really good. They actually cause us some real problems, a little bit in this same genre (as Boise State) of matchups.”
— WCC Basketball (@WCChoops) December 10, 2020
This year’s BYU team is far different from the one that incorporated many guards, ran a pistol offense, and became an offensive juggernaut. Pope and his team are still feeling out how to play with all the size in the Cougars rotation. They’ll need to find answers in a hurry against a Utah team playing confidently, with Timmy Allen and Rylan Jones playing prominent roles. Two players who combined for 52 points in last year’s upset against BYU.
Allen and BYU basketball guard Alex Barcello grew up good friends playing on the same youth basketball team for four years. But that won’t be at the forefront of the Cougars senior leader going into Saturday’s 261st all-time meeting (BYU leads 131-129) between the programs.
“They got us last year at their place, and it’s a huge rivalry. Every game we’ve played has been tough. These in-state games are always tough, especially us and the Utes,” said Barcello. “We’ve got to come in ready to battle; we’ve got to come in with the mindset that it’s going to be a war. Whether the refs are calling fouls for us, whether they’re not calling fouls for us. Whether we’re hitting shots or missing shots, whatever the game has given us, we have to fight the entire game. We’ve got to have that toughness from tip to the final buzzer.”
What you need to know about Utah
Utah currently ranks at No. 57 in the KenPom ratings. Last season, Utah finished with a 16-15 record and 7-11 mark in Pac-12 Conference play. Sharp-shooter Alfonso Plummer leads the Utes in scoring with 17.0 per game, followed by Timmy Allen (12.5), Branden Carlson (11.0), and reserve Pelle Larsson (11.0).
— Utah Basketball🏀 (w/ 😷) (@UtahMBB) December 9, 2020
Larry Krystkowiak’s team is one of the tops in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio through their first two games. Utah is third nationally in assist-to-turnovers, with former Olympus star Rylan Jones and Larsson averaging five dimes per game.
This is Utah’s only opportunity out of conference to help shape their NCAA Tournament resume. The Utes have two games remaining in league play, with Utah Valley and Idaho coming to the Huntsman Center. Both of those teams are sub-300 in the KenPom ratings.
What’s at stake for BYU/Utah
BYU is looking to avoid consecutive losses for the first time in the Mark Pope era. This is also a chance for the Cougars to get their highest-rated win per KenPom ratings. BYU is 0-1 against teams from the Pac-12 this season, suffering a 26-point loss to USC on Dec. 1. This will be BYU’s last game against a Power 6 team this season.
For Utah, it’s their best opportunity to shape their Tournament resume before Pac-12 play. The Utes haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2016.
Projected Starting Lineups
G – Alex Barcello, Sr.; 6-2, 180
G – Brandon Averette, Sr.; 5-11, 185
F – Connor Harding, Jr.; 6-6, 185
F – Caleb Lohner, Fr.; 6-8, 230
F/C – Matt Haarms, Sr.; 7-3, 250
G – Rylan Jones, Soph.; 6-0, 179
G – Alfonso Plummer, Sr.; 6-1, 182
F – Timmy Allen, Jr.; 6-6, 198
F – Mikael Janutunen, Soph.; 6-8, 218
C – Branden Carlson, Soph.; 7-0, 215
How To Watch BYU Basketball vs. Utah
Date: December 12th, 2020
Tip: 4 p.m. (MT)
Which Channel: DirecTV (374; for Utah customers – Ch. 11), Dish (4369), AT&T U-Verse (1567), Verizon FiOS (290, 289), Comcast XFinity (Utah – Channel 11)
Announcers: Dave McCann (Play-by-Play), Blaine Fowler (analyst), Spencer Linton (sideline)
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.