No. 14 BYU Seeks Fourth Consecutive Win Over Rival Utah

Dec 8, 2023, 5:11 PM | Updated: 5:12 pm

BYU Basketball, Trevin Knell, Utah Utes...

BYU basketball guard Trevin Knell leads the No. 14 Cougars into Salt Lake to face rival Utah. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – The eyeballs around college hoops are beginning to take notice of BYU basketball.

An 8-0 start, and a No. 1 ranking in the NCAA’s NET ratings will do that. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the undefeated Cougars are No. 14 in the latest AP Top 25.

BYU takes their undefeated record into a road venue for the first time this season. They will be taking on rival Utah for one last time as non-conference foes. Utah will join the Big 12 next season on August 2, 2024. It will reunite the two in-state rivals as conference foes again for the first time since 2010.

That’s down the road. In the present, BYU looks to remain unbeaten while also extending its win streak over the Utes to four games.

BYU head coach Mark Pope is 3-1 against Utah since he became the Cougars head coach in 2019. Pope is a perfect 4-0 against Utah coach Craig Smith, dating back to Smith’s time at Utah State.

It’s a big game that sets the stage for this hardwood rivalry to matter again along the Wasatch Front.

BYU vs. Utah: Huntsman Center is always a tough venue for the Cougs

The Huntsman Center has never been an easy venue for BYU to win games. Since 2007, BYU has had more success than historically at the JMHC, winning six of the last ten on Utah’s home floor.

But when you dig into the details of those wins, BYU defeated Utah teams that didn’t reach the postseason.

The last time BYU defeated a Utah team that went on to play in the NCAA Tournament at the Huntsman Center was in 1979. That was Danny Ainge’s sophomore season.

So it might be a game with higher stakes for Utah. If the Utes don’t win this one over BYU, history shows Utah won’t be dancing in March.

It’s not a make-or-break game for BYU, as the Big 12 Conference will create plenty of resume-building opportunities. But if BYU gets this one, they have a chance at entering league play next month with an undefeated record.

Also, in-state games are always a big deal.

“It’s super fun to play in-state rivals. It is fun to play against guys you kind of grew up with; I was with Branden Carlson; he was my AAU teammate. I’ll be texting him later this week and kind of spicing things up,” said BYU guard Trevin Knell. “This game’s gonna be personal. I love Deion Sanders saying they like to make things personal. So it’s gonna be a fun game and I feel like we’re gonna be ready for that fight.”

No. 14 BYU vs. Utah: How To Watch, Listen

Location: Jon M. Huntsman Center

City: Salt Lake City

Tip-Off: 5 p.m. (MT)

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

What you need to know about No. 14 BYU Basketball

The stats don’t lie; BYU has been dominant through the season’s first eight games. BYU is number one nationally in scoring margin, defeating teams by 32.9 points per game. They are also No. 1 in three-pointers per game, knocking down 12.9 a night.

BYU is one of three teams to average 12 or more three-pointers throughout the season. The other two programs are Creighton and North Florida.

Utah head coach Craig Smith has high praise for how BYU is operating.

“They kind of remind you of the Lakers of the 80s with Magic, Worthy, and Kareem. Just fastbreak and they put a lot of pressure on you; they play through the pass,” said Smith. “They just have so many guys that can shoot the three. They’re playing with a ton of confidence and confidence really matters.”

BYU should be rolling with the same starting five as they’ve trotted out since Fousseyni Traore suffered a hamstring injury against NC State on Black Friday. That five includes Dallin Hall at point guard, Trevin Knell at the two, Spencer Johnson at three, Noah Waterman at the four, and Aly Khalifa anchoring the five spot.

Only two of those five players have faced Utah in the Huntsman Center. Dallin Hall has played in games at Huntsman Center during Utah High School Playoffs, where he was called a “hooper” by NBA star Donovan Mitchell when Hall was at Fremont High.

The often overlooked aspect of BYU’s success in this early part of the schedule has been on the defensive end. BYU is No. 12 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency metrics on KenPom. They are sixth in the nation in scoring defense and tops in three-point defense (22.4%).

Assistant coach Kahil Fennell has taken the reigns of BYU’s defensive playcalling duties.

BYU has been a team that pulls away from their opponents in the second half of games. The Cougars are outscoring opponents 392-272 in the second half this season.

Get to know the Utah Utes

Utah enters the game with a 6-2 record overall.

Utah’s only losses this year were against Houston and St. John’s.

The big question for the Utes coming into Saturday night’s game is the status of 7-footer Branden Carlson. Smith told reporters on Friday that he wasn’t sure about Carlson’s status yet before Friday’s practice. Carlson missed Tuesday’s 88-86 win over Southern Utah.

If Carlson is out, former Wisconsin transfer Ben Carlson would get the start.

Reserve big man Keba Keita has been playing at a high level in recent games. The 6-foot-8 center scored a career-high 23 points off the bench against SUU. Utah hasn’t lost a game this season that Keita has played in.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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No. 14 BYU Seeks Fourth Consecutive Win Over Rival Utah