Superior depth the difference as BYU rolls past neighboring Utah Valley in Crosstown Clash
Playing their third game in four nights, Cougars get a good test from Wolverines before pulling away in the final five minutes
All of the best basketball players in Utah County don’t play at BYU.
Just more of them.
That fact was proven rather succinctly Saturday night at the Marriott Center, as the deeper, taller Cougars held off upset-minded Utah Valley 82-60 in the annual UCCU Crosstown Clash of schools separated by just 4 miles in the state’s second-most populous county.
Alex Barcello took over the game after a slow start and finished with 20 points to lead BYU, while Trey Woodbury (24) and Jamison Overton (21) combined for 45 for UVU. But while Barcello got a lot of help from his cadre of capable teammates — four other Cougars reached double figures — one-time BYU recruit Woodbury and Overton got little.
BYU coach Mark Pope, who led that memorable UVU win over Dave Rose’s Cougars four years ago, almost to the day, got 30 points from his bench, while his replacement, Mark Madsen, got just nine from his, and none in the first half.
“What an incredible job Mark Madsen is doing. They are going to be a really good team. … He is going to really blow that place up.” — BYU coach Mark Pope
“It helps that we have depth,” said Pope, whose team was playing its third game in four nights. “That’s really helping us with these (frequent) games.”
Brandon Averette and Connor Harding had 11 points apiece, while Trevin Knell and Purdue transfer Matt Haarms — making his BYU debut — had 10 each. Freshman Caleb Lohner, making his first start, added six points and eight rebounds.
Only Averette (36) and Barcello (31) played more than 30 minutes for the Cougars, and only Knell (24) and Harding (26) played more than 20. Three Wolverines played more than 30.
“We have a deep team, and that’s what makes this team super special,” Knell said. “We don’t have an agenda (for playing time). We just want to win, and that’s what we are going to do.”
Maybe, but the degree of difficulty rises considerably. Up next is the Pac-12’s USC on Tuesday at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, followed by UConn or Vanderbilt on Thursday and a trip to Logan to face defending Mountain West champion Utah State on Saturday.
“They just get harder and harder and harder,” Pope said.
BYU won all three games by more than 20 points, made more than 10 3-pointers in all three, and shot better than 50% from the field in all three. No worries, right?
Not exactly. The Cougars suffered through several offensive lapses, got out of rhythm in both halves, and struggled to contain Woodbury and Overton, who were a combined 16 of 30 from the field. They did slow UVU big man Fardaws Aimaq, who had 24 points and 18 rebounds in the Wolverines’ easy win over Adams State on Thursday. Facing BYU’s superior size, Aimaq was 1 of 9 for three points.
“We’ve got to get way better,” Pope said.
Don’t be fooled by the 22-point margin of victory for BYU, now 3-0 after winning its third game in four nights. The Cougars didn’t overwhelm their neighbors, and at times memories of that 2016 UVU win on BYU’s floor most likely flashed through the minds of Cougar fans everywhere.
The Wolverines (1-1) were competitive throughout, led by as many as 10 points in the first half and were within 10 points with just under five minutes remaining in the intense, physical contest in front of just a couple hundred spectators.
UVU was shorthanded, too, as former Cougar Colby Leifson was in quarantine and Georgia Tech transfer Evan Cole also sat out.
“What an incredible job Mark Madsen is doing,” Pope said. “They are going to be a really good team. … He is going to really blow that place up.”
Much like Pope is doing at BYU.
On this night, though, all eyes were on the tallest player on the floor, the 7-foot-3 Haarms. On a 10-minute playing time restriction, Haarms entered the game before the first media timeout and promptly air balled a 3-point attempt.
A moment later, he took a lob from Jesse Wade and slammed home a dunk for his first points as a Cougar. He also picked up three quick fouls.
“Those first few minutes, I felt really lost,” Haarms said.
Good thing the Cougars had Barcello, the Arizona transfer.
The senior didn’t score in the first nine minutes as UVU took an 18-8 lead, then sparked a 30-6 run over the final 11 minutes that gave the Cougars a 38-24 halftime lead. Barcello’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer ended the half.
“Nothing felt right,” Pope said. “We just had to get back to trusting each other.”
It is becoming evident that this is Barcello’s team this year, and the Cougars will go as he goes. As the Cougars foundered early, he gathered them together and said, “‘Let’s just do our principles and we will be OK,’” Knell said.
Indeed, the Cougars missed their first seven 3-point attempts, then made six of their last eight 3-pointers in the first half. They finished 11 of 25 from deep.
BYU was up 68-46 with about eight minutes left after a Knell 3-pointer, then watched Woodbury, Overton and former Cougar Blaze Nield lead the final Wolverine uprising.
UVU put together a 12-0 run to cut the deficit to 68-58 before Barcello made a floater in the lane to stop the bleeding.
“It’s an instate game — you are going to have some frustration,” Knell said.
The Cougars finished the game on a 9-0 run, holding the visitors without a field goal the final 5:33.
The biggest downer for BYU came before the game when Pope announced that junior forward Gavin Baxter will be out for the season after sustaining a torn ACL and a torn meniscus in his right knee in the 86-61 win over New Orleans on Thursday.
“Losing Gavin was punch to the gut for everybody on this team,” Pope said. “It is a huge loss for us.”