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A game worth camping for? BYU fans settle in outside Marriott Center

PROVO — Tent? Check. Sleeping bag? Check. Air mattress? Check.

Wii?

Check.

Only the most die-hard BYU basketball fans dared camp out in below-freezing conditions outside the Marriott Center for Saturday's big game between the 13th-ranked Cougars (26-3, 11-2) and No. 10 New Mexico (26-3, 12-2). As of Friday afternoon, about 20 tents were staked down along the west side of the Marriott Center, and fans said another dozen or so were expected to join them.

"It's a huge game," said Orem native Jordan Burr. "You've got to have good seats for the big game."

Burr and his friend Jonathan Baxter, of American Fork, showed up at noon Friday to begin their campout for seats in the Marriott Center's student section. And although the Mountain West showdown will be the conference's first between two teams ranked in the top 15, Baxter and Burr said they don't expect as many students to show their true blue pride overnight as did for the Utah game on Jan. 30.

"More will come around 6 or 7 in the morning," Burr said.

"It'll be fun to be out here with like-minded people," Baxter said.

While this is Baxter and Burr's first experience camping out for a BYU sporting event, others like Orem native Michelle Ipson are veterans.

Ipson's in-laws have camped out for basketball games, as well as ESPN's College GameDay visit to Provo in October, for the past two years. Their six-person team has taken shifts since Wednesday night, holding down their third-in-line spot, while sleeping, working on homework and playing video games.

"We're bringing a TV and Nintendo Wii tonight," Ipson said. "I'm hoping for a close game tomorrow through the game, and then (watch BYU) kill them in the end."

Though fans have teams of three to 20 manning their tents, Steve Wakefield of Provo decided to face the cold alone.

"I brought my bed from home," Wakefield said. "It was cold, but a better night's sleep than I've had for a few weeks."

After spending days studying, playing cards and chatting, Wakefield was prepared to party with other campers Friday night.

"If we've got a good seed (in the NCAA Tournament), we'll make it up to the Sweet Sixteen," he said.

Other true blue fans like Jake Darley from Jackson, Wis., decided to skip the frigid outdoor sleepover.

"It's going to be a great game," Darley said, "but wasting a Friday night and a Saturday morning just to sit a few rows up doesn't seem beneficial to me."

Instead, Darley will arrive at noon, a half-hour before the Marriott's doors open.

"The Mountain West Conference has never had two top 15 teams go head to head," he said. "New Mexico humiliated us in Albuquerque (a 76-72 BYU loss on Jan. 27), and it's time for payback."

e-mail: eteichert@desnews.com