Apples and oranges.

As often as we try, comparing them is always fruitless.

The BYU men’s and women’s basketball teams are flourishing next to each other at the Marriott Center. The men are 35-3 in three seasons under head coach Mark Pope. The women have won 27 straight home games under head coach Jeff Judkins.

Out in the marketplace, however, they are very different.

The women

The 18-1 BYU women remain No. 16 in this week’s AP Top 25 — the highest in the history of the program. They have also been ranked for 10 consecutive weeks — the longest in program history. The Cougars (7-0 in West Coast Conference) begin a significant road swing Thursday at Portland (13-4, 3-2) and Saturday at second-place Gonzaga (16-4, 7-0).

Sophomore Shaylee Gonzales leads the WCC in scoring (18.5), senior Paisley Harding is close behind at No. 5 (16.4), and sophomore Lauren Gustin is No. 1 in rebounding (12.3). The Cougars lead the league in scoring, rebounding, assists, 3-point shooting and victories.

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They are overwhelming their opponents, beating the last 10 by an average of 26.6 points. Before Saturday’s game against USF, Dons coach Molly Goodenbour joked that the key to beating BYU was “not having their starters show up.”

Well, they showed up and beat USF 99-58.

The last time the BYU women were in a single-digit game was in their only loss of the season — 99-91 in overtime at Oklahoma on Dec. 10.

The men

The BYU men (17-6, 5-3) were knocking on the door of the top 25 before dropping road games last week at Santa Clara and Pacific. The losses whisked them off the national radar and into fourth place in the WCC and from a “lock” to the ‘bubble’ for the NCAA Tournament.

Fans pack into the Marriott Center on Jan. 22, 2022, to watch the Cougars defeat Portland in Provo. The Cougars were cruising through WCC play prior to last weekend, when they suffered losses to Santa Clara and Pacific. | Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

If poorly managed, a basketball season, like a projected bumper crop, can be wiped out by a three-day cold spell. However, it can also be revived by a hot streak. The Cougars need an immediate spring thaw going into home games against San Francisco (17-5, 4-3) on Thursday and No. 2 Gonzaga (17-2, 6-0) Saturday night.

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Senior Alex Barcello is No. 4 in the WCC in scoring (16.9) and is No. 1 in 3-point-percentage (.465%). Senior Te’jon Lucas is No. 3 in assists (4.5 per game) and freshman Fousseyni Traore is No. 3 in rebounding (8.3).

But unlike the women, the men begin February in a mad scramble to regroup, retool and rebound after last week’s unravelling.

Price of admission

It costs $25 to buy a front-row ticket at center court to watch the women hoop it up at the Marriott Center. Because of demand, the same seat for a men’s game is available after a significant donation to BYU and requires some hoop jumping through various levels of the Cougar Club just to get there. The ticket office did find one open chair seat in the lower bowl for Thursday’s game against USF for $90.

Prior to Saturday’s win against the Dons, and for the first time this season, the women were treated to the same pregame festivities as the men.

The lights dipped, the music was turned up, and a 50-foot curtain dropped from the scoreboard. 

The Cougars gasped with big eyes and wide smiles as they watched their images roll across the biggest screen of their lives. They were finally getting the “big time” treatment in their own facility.

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The pep band belted out the fight song, while remnants of the ROC student section joined a season-high crowd (not including kids’ day) of 1,648 and Harding’s 30-point performance kept them on their feet most of the afternoon. 

The men average just over 15,000 fans and rank among the top 10 nationally in attendance. The largest crowd of the year is expected on Saturday against Gonzaga. Since it opened in 1971, the environment at a men’s game has made the Marriott Center a destination for disappointment for hundreds of teams.

High expectations flank both programs, with the ultimate judgement around the corner. Just like Kevin Bacon in “Footloose” these two teams just want to dance.

Postseason posturing

“Preference” is girls’ choice and “Prom” is boys’ choice. But when it comes to getting an invite to the Big Dance — that’s a committee’s choice. They will weigh each program’s body of work, including strength of schedule and big wins versus devastating defeats.

The women have a lofty goal of reaching the Final Four. At the pace they are on, they can expect the most attractive invite in program history. The men, after last week, are hoping to just get invited at all.

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Apples and oranges have always had similarities and differences. Both are fruit and when in-season, they are delicious and easy to sell. But their makeup is unique from one another. Comparing them is fruitless.

The BYU men’s and women’s teams are still in-season, and both are having bumper crops, with each approaching 20 wins against challenging schedules. However, comparisons as to which team is the most fruitful will be determined by the marketplace in March.

As for today, one team is making the sale look easy, while the other has buyers scratching their heads.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.

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