Expect a spirited encounter when UTEP comes to the Marriott Center tonight.
The Cougars felt more than a little embarrassed by their 20-point defeat at the hands of the Miners three weeks ago, on a night in El Paso when UTEP guard Eddie Rivera scored 33 points.After that game, BYU coach Roger Reid said, "You could put him alone in a gym and I'm not sure he could do what he did again."
In that WAC opener for both teams, the Miners turned a fairly close game into a runaway in the final two minutes with a parade to the foul line. By the end they were whooping it up big-time, showboating on a couple of breakaway dunks and high-fiving all over the court. Most of the Cougars tolerated the Miners' antics in typically stoic BYU fashion, but guard Nick Sanderson wasn't too impressed. When the final buzzer sounded, he sprinted past the UTEP bench, off the court and up the tunnel to the visitors' locker room.
Minutes later, he said, "It hurt losing like that. They didn't show us any respect, not shaking our hands or anything. When they come back to our place, we'll show them who's the real team."
Sanderson also noted that the intense Miner crowd helped the home team out a lot in that game. A good crowd might be expected for tonight's game against the WAC's first-place team, but who can predict what BYU fans will do? With second-place New Mexico in town Thursday night, the Cougs played before a relatively low turnout of 16,662. With that in mind, perhaps, Y. officials announced in mid-game Thursday that hot dogs would be priced at three for a dollar for today's game. If that doesn't pack them in, nothing will.
The big question for the Cougars in this game is the neck of center Gary Trost. Just when he gets his knee healed from a cut suffered diving for a loose ball a month ago, he takes a charge against New Mexico, undercuts teammate Russell Larson, and gets his chin pressed into his sternum, causing him all sorts of neck pain. He sat out practice Friday and was listed as doubtful against UTEP.
On paper, anything that would slow up Trost (who scored 21 against UTEP last time), coupled with the return to the UTEP lineup of leading scorer Marlon Maxey, would seem to make the Miners the favorite. But the fact is, BYU needs this win a lot more than UTEP. If the Miners lose, they're still tied for first place. If BYU loses, the Cougars will be two games behind the Miners with eight games to play, five on the road.
On the other hand, the Miners lost a close one to Utah on Thursday on a 40-foot shot at the buzzer, so they might be feeling a little frustrated.
One intriguing matchup will be Nate Call vs. Rivera, assuming that's who Call will guard. In that last game, the Miners' big men frequently picked off Call coming across the lane, allowing Rivera a couple moments to get the ball - and that was all he needed. Call, meanwhile, scored three points.
The game will be televised live on Channel 5 at 7:30 and replayed on Channel 11 at 10:45.