No. 14 BYU (8-0) takes its perfect record into Saturday’s Holy War showdown against rival Utah (6-2) as the Running Utes look to upset the Cougars and remain unbeaten at home. Tipoff starts at 5 P.M. (MT) inside the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
Incredibly, Saturday’s game marks BYU’s first and only true road game of the non-conference season as the Cougars make the short trip up north to Salt Lake City.
The Running Utes are looking for their biggest win of the season and look to continue the momentum they’ve gained with a recent 3-game winning streak — including a big win over Saint Mary’s — a former foe to BYU in the West Coast Conference.
The only losses for Utah this year have come against No. 6 Houston (9-0) in a 10-point defeat, followed by a 9-point loss to St. John’s (6-2).
Saturday’s showdown will be the 264th all-time meeting between two schools. BYU has dominated, winning 12 of the last 16 meetings, to take the all-time series lead at 134-129. The Holy War game is the 14th longest rivalry game in the country.
Date: Saturday, December 9
Time: 5:00 P.M. MT
TV: Pac 12 Network
Announcers: Guy Haberman, Bill Walton
Location: Jon M. Huntsman Center (15,000) — Salt Lake City, Utah
BYU 134, Utah 129
The biggest question for Utah fans, players, and coaches is that status of Branden Carlson. The fifth-year center missed Tuesday’s game with an undisclosed injury and didn’t practice with the team yesterday either. When asked if Carlson was going to play, Utah head coach Craig Smith said, “I don’t know yet. (He) didn’t really do anything yesterday, and so we’ll see how things go today (at practice).”
If Carlson can’t go, it will be a big blow for the Running Utes as the 7-footer is averaging a team-high 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists this season. He’s also shooting 47.1% from the floor and has the third most 3-pointers (10) on the team.
If Carlson is healthy, the Utes will have a shot at upsetting the Cougars, but their 3-point defense is going to have to get better, and in a hurry. The Running Utes are 287th in the country in 3-point defense, allow opponents to make 36% of their shots from beyond the arc. That won’t be good enough against BYU’s elite shooters Saturday night.
BYU is one of the best teams in the nation on the 3-point line on both sides of the court. The Cougars make 39% of their attempts — with is impressive considering they are shooting half of their shots from deep. BYU is also just one of three schools (Creighton and North Florida) in the nation to average 12+ 3-pointers per game so far this season. The Cougars have also set a program record by making at least 10 3-pointers in each game this season. Jaxson Robinson leads the way with 25 made shots from beyond the arc followed by Trevin Knell (22), Noah Waterman (17) and Dallin Hall (12).
The Cougars are also getting it done on defense as the team is holding opponents to just 22% from beyond the arc — ranking first in all of college basketball.
Prediction: BYU 76, Utah 68
If you look up almost any stat, you’ll find BYU in the Top 10 as the Cougars are one of the most balanced teams in the country. They pass and share the ball well, they shoot well, they defend well and they don’t commit turnovers. So far, the Cougars haven’t shown any weaknesses this season, however, will the first true road game of the season in a hostile environment change that? We’ll see.
Utah will have to easily play its best game of the season to get a win Saturday night and I’m not sure they’ll do that, even if Carlson plays. Utah was a 24-point favorite against SUU on Tuesday and hung on for a 88-86 victory at home. Meanwhile, BYU beat Evansville by 41 points, showing that good teams take care of business against inferior opponents.
When it comes to rankings, Saturday’s match-up will be Utah’s 23rd game against a No. 14 AP ranked opponent. The Utes are 6-16 all-time. Going deeper, Utah is 4-12 all-time when playing against an AP ranked BYU squad and 0-3 when the Cougars have been ranked No. 14 in the AP Poll.
I expect BYU to continue its streak against the Utes to improve to 9-0 on the season. The win will also help the Cougars keep its No. 1 NET ranking.