Provo • They’ve boarded a plane for Princeton, N.J. And another to get from Utah County to Brooklyn, N.Y. So after criss-crossing the country to start the season, BYU coach Dave Rose is looking forward to his team’s upcoming stretch of games for at least one reason.
“This is a 10-minute bus ride if you get the lights right,” Rose said.
The Cougars are traveling just one town over for Wednesday night’s matchup with Utah Valley University, the start of a stretch of that will see them take on four in-state opponents in their next five games. With the good, however, comes the bad.
“The travel will be easier. That’s about it,” Rose said. “Everything else will be harder.”
The Cougars will take on Utah State in Logan on Saturday, play Weber State in the Beehive Classic on Dec. 9 and host the Runnin’ Utes on Dec. 16.
It would be a major mistake, of course, to overlook their trip to Orem. A year ago, the Wolverines walked into the Marriott Center as underdogs and waltzed away with a 114-101 victory over BYU. It’s a loss that has stuck with the three Cougars who played in that game.
“There’s just a few of us that were on the team last year, but we’re really looking forward to having another shot at these guys,” guard TJ Haws said. “… Just taking that loss last year and having that remind us every day how that felt has been a huge motivation and a huge help to feel that energy every day in practice.”
This time around, the Wolverines will have a more experienced roster, and home-court advantage at a sold-out UCCU Center.
“There’s not too many people that are neutral about BYU. That makes it exciting and unique that way,” Rose said when asked about the reception he expects. “… It will be a great atmosphere.”
The Wolverines, coached by former BYU assistant Mark Pope, have already shown their experienced roster, heavy on transfers from across the country, could hang with Kentucky and Duke for stretches. Led by former Oklahoma center Akolda Manyang (17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) they have gone on to win four straight games after that challenging back-to-back road trip to start the year.
“It’s just great for the community,” Rose said of the game. “Mark’s got a really competitive team this year and he’s got a chance to really make some noise in his conference play and tournament. I’m excited for the valley and for the game.”
The Cougars are coming off a win over UMass on Saturday in Brooklyn, and have been encouraged by the strong play of sophomore Yoeli Childs (15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds).
On Wednesday, the Cougars will try to keep that momentum going as the face off with some familiar faces, including former teammates Isaac Neilson and Jake Toolson.
“There will be a lot of passion in this game,” said BYU forward Luke Worthington said. “… We’re not going to worry too much about who is over there and who we know. We know there are going to be a lot of emotions involved for some guys over there, but we’re just going to play our game and play together.”
BYU at Utah Valley<br>At the UCCU Center in Orem<br>Tipoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m.<br>TV • BYUTv<br>Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM<br>Records • BYU 4-2, UVU 4-2<br>Last meeting • The Wolverines upset the Cougars, 114-101, last November at the Marriott Center in Provo<br>About the Cougars • Went 1-1 in last weekend’s Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y. … They excel when guard Elijah Bryant is getting to the free throw line and scoring; he’s averaging 18.2 points per game this season. … Four of the Cougars’ next five games will be against in-state opponents.<br>About the Wolverines • Only three of Mark Pope’s 16 Wolverines are not transfers to the program. … Former Cougar Isaac Neilson scored 26 points to help beat his former team last year. … They started the season with a grueling road trip, playing national powerhouses Kentucky and Duke on the road on back-to-back nights.