by Daniel Olsen | Both Coach Mark Madsen and Mark Pope will have this game “marked” on their calendar. These teams are in close proximity (just a drive down University Parkway) and have a unique recent history with each other. Players and coaches have spent time on both sides of the rivalry. No matter who wins, this game will be one to remember. Let’s look at both sides and the unique stories for this game.
BYU: Wolverines now wearing blue
Coach Mark Pope: Pope is now at Brigham Young University but it wasn’t long ago that he was wearing green on the other side of the rivalry. He was the only coach at UVU to ever beat BYU back in a shootout in 2016. He enters his second season in Provo after having an impressive season last year. His best win was over #2 Gonzaga last year in the Marriott Center.
Brandon Averette: This will be Averette’s first year as a member of the BYU Cougars basketball team. Last year he was a member of the UVU Wolverines. He is a grad transfer senior that will immediately bring experience to BYU. He spent his first two seasons at Oklahoma State, a transfer target for many teams in the state of Utah. At UVU, he started 80 percent of his games which was up significantly. So far, he has started every game at BYU. He is averaging a career high 13 points per game on an efficient 54.5 percent from three. He is a bit undersized at 5’11” but he makes up for it with intangible skills.
Richard Harward: Harward is the younger brother of former BYU standout Ian Harward. He was an integral part of UVU’s team as an almost seven foot tall player. He played there for two year and then decided to reunite with his old coach. He recorded 11 points in the BYU win over New Orleans on Thanksgiving night. He scored in double figures last year in his final four games as a Wolverine. He only scored four points in 14 minutes in his first game as a Cougar. That shouldn’t count though as it was over a Division 2 Westminster team. This allowed more players to get opportunities to play. Normally this would be a preseason game but this year there is an exception to allow such games to be played.
Wyatt Lowell: While he only started two games in his short UVU career, Lowell brings a talented addition to the BYU bench. He has struggled a bit with the opportunities he’s been given so far as a Cougar with a 20 percent shooting percentage from three. However, he is likely getting used to less playing time as he only played eight minutes per game which isn’t much for the first two games being blowouts. He averaged 15 minutes a game at UVU and shot 37 percent from three last year. While he isn’t much of a passing or rim protector big man, he can rebound. He is averaging two rebounds per game in limited action. His 6’10” frame is a luxury you don’t see at the end of every team’s bench.
UVU: Cougars now wearing green
Blaze Nield: Nield became a household favorite after he of all teammates was the one to help the Cougars set their single-game threes record last season. That was his only made three of the year as he missed one other attempt. This year he will hope to get a bit more playing time in his first game as a Wolverine. He totaled 12 points in his time as a Cougar. He isn’t a sure-fire starter but could possibly get it the rotation more at UVU which was possibly the reason for transferring. He is a small but quick guard that has the potential to be an elite shooter. We will see how he does with an increased sample size.
Colby Leifsob: Leifson was another player on the BYU roster who likely left the deep Cougars to get off the bench more often. He has a more size than Nield at 6’4” and while not shooting at as great a clip, did see more scoring opportunities en route to 42 points in the 2016-2017 season. He returned from an LDS mission to Brazil last year and sat out last season. A year of conditioning will possibly help him acclimate to the grueling demands of college basketball.
Prediction: It’s not too hard to make this pick when the one UVU coach who beat BYU is sitting on the other side. I think this will be a competitive game with several faces wearing different jerseys this time around. UVU gets plenty of transfers but BYU has been able to pick off their best players. The Cougars are getting the better end of the transfer portal. Pope is an aggressive recruiter as he has not only secured the best teams on UVU, but a nationally prized recruit in 7’3” Purdue transfer Matt Haarms. Haarms sat out the first two games due to an ankle injury. If he’s ready to go tonight then every bucket on the inside will be well-earned for the Wolverines. Assuming he’s not back, this still looks like a double-digit win for the Cougars. Mark Madsen, the former Laker and assistant, had his season opener vs his alma mater Stanford Cardinal cancelled. He is building a good program in his second year at UVU but he will have to keep building it into a WAC powerhouse before he can compete with one of the top three teams in the WCC.
BYU should win and I predict the final score will be Cougars 85 UVU 70. If Haarms plays I think the Wolverines will be lucky to score 60.
Featured image courtesy Deseret News