The last time BYU's basketball team played Southern Utah University it was no contest. The Cougars routed the Thunderbirds by 46 points, 108-62, two years ago.
Yet the 4-2 Cougars aren't expecting tonight's game against 3-0 SUU to be easy. After all, the last time BYU played an instate rival it was no contest. Utah State routed the Cougars by 24-points, 83-59, last week."After what happened against Utah State last week we know any instate game will be a dogfight," Cougar center Kenneth Roberts said. "The last thing we want is to be blown out by 20 again."
The Cougar-Thunderbird battle will be the second game in the first round of the annual Cougar Classic at the Marriott Center, beginning at approximately 7:30 p.m. The opening-game of the tournament, tipping off at 5:30 p.m., will pit 4-1 Northwestern State (La.) against running-and-gunning South Alabama (1-0). The Jaguars of the Sun Belt Conference have adopted a Loyola Marymount-style offense this season. South Alabama scored 156 points in its only non-exhibition game so far this year.
Friday night's winners will play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for the classic title with Friday's losers meeting in the consolation game at 5:30.
Southern Utah is off to a good start, owning home wins over Humboldt State, Southwest Texas and Cleveland State. All five T-Bird starters are averaging double figures scoring, led by senior guard Keith Berard (16.3 points per game) and senior 6-8 forward Sean Allen (15.3 ppg).
Other Thunderbird starters include Donnie McDade (13 ppg), Daryl Christopher (11 ppg) and Aaron Morrison (10.7 ppg). Guard Reggie Ingram, a starter last year, has yet to play this season after straining a knee in SUU's last exhibition game. He may be ready to play this weekend, however.
"I look at Southern Utah as a tough opponent," BYU coach Roger Reid said. "They've done very well in past years against other teams in our conference. I think they lost at UTEP last year by just four or five points. We've got everything in the world to lose. We'd be better off playing Duke."
After being embarrassed at BYU two years ago in the first round of the Cougar Classic, the Thunderbirds have a little extra incentive to show they can play with the state's big boys.
"Even though I wasn't there, I know what happened the last time SUU and BYU played," Berard said. "That's good motivation for us. We're going up there to play our game and to compete."
BYU's front court trio of Roberts (16.3 ppg), 6-11 forward Russell Larson (15.8 ppg) and 6-10 forward Shane Knight (13 ppg) could give SUU fits.
"BYU is really big up front, very talented and they play smart," Allen said. "We have to play our most focused game and help each other out to win. We're excited to go up there and give it a shot."