By Nicholas Goodfellow
In-state rival University of Utah visits the Marriott Center Saturday Jan. 25 at 1 p.m. for one of the hottest rivalries in the nation.
The Cougars are riding a nation-leading 44-game home winning streak and look to continue their consistent play against a very tough Utah team.
“It”s a big-time game,” junior guard Ricky Bower said. “There is lots of emotion; lots of things happen you really wouldn”t expect.”
BYU and Utah are playing in their 233rd game against each other with the series knotted at 116-116. It ranks 10th in the nation for the longest rivalry and is the 11th longest-running rivalry dating back to 1909.
“We”re playing an outstanding team,” coach Steve Cleveland said. “They”re probably as good as anybody in the western part of the country.”
Utah will look to contain BYU”s big front line just as San Diego State did Monday night.
The Aztecs held junior Rafael Araujo to just eight points on 2-of-4 shooting by double-teaming the 6-foot-11-inch junior, but the Cougars took advantage of the double team by knocking down 10 three pointers.
The Utes will have to decide whether to double team Araujo and leave the Cougars open on the perimeter, or try to single cover him and hope he has an off night.
Araujo said that his job against the Utes is to play smart and look for his game whatever the defense.
Utah”s defense might be the Cougars” biggest concern, though. This season the Utes rank ninth in the nation in points allowed (57.8 ppg). The highest output of any Ute opponent since November was Pepperdine who were only able to muster 61 points against the Utes.
Cleveland spoke highly of Utah coach Rick Majerus and said that his teams are always tough defensively.
BYU, on the other hand, is a team that needs to score. They have always had good defense, but win games when they score points.
This season they are 4-0 when scoring 80 points or more.
During the last three games, Cleveland has started Terry Nashif at the point guard position and has seen great things from the 5-foot-10-inch sophomore.
“We are a better offensive team early on when Terry is on the floor,” Cleveland said.
The Cougars are 3-0 since Nashif moved into the starting lineup and he has gained the trust of not just the coaches, but the players as well in just a short amount of time.
“Terry is so smooth,” senior guard Travis Hansen said. “He has the ability to break anybody down.”
The Cougars also hope to get another big scoring night from junior guard Mark Bigelow, who matched his season high of 21 points against SDSU Monday night. His shooting could be the key to BYU”s success.
Senior forward Britton Johnsen and juniors Tim Frost and Nick Jacobson lead the Utes and all average in double figures in points.
But the Cougars biggest concern has to be the highly touted Johnsen.
“I have so much respect for Britton,” coach Steve Cleveland said. “Not only is he a great guy…he is a great player. He definitely will play at the next level.”
Johnsen was the Mountain West Conference player of the year in 2002, and continues to be a dominant force in the league.
The Cougars look to improve to 3-0 in conference play, and 14-4 on the season.