In the loud, intense environment of Utah Valley University’s sold-out gym, the losing team could be forgiven for playing too skittishly and pressing Wednesday night.
Yeah, UVU’s players apparently were unnerved by having so many people cheering for them.
BYU’s historic, 5-mile trip down University Parkway hardly could have worked out better for the Cougars, who took a 85-58 victory in the UCCU Center. Yoeli Childs’ inside dominance with a career-high 24 points for BYU and the Wolverines’ 12 first-half turnovers removed any drama of this rematch after UVU’s breakthrough win in Provo last November.
While receiving far more home-crowd support than ever before in the school’s Division I era, the Wolverines produced one of their worst efforts in the three-year tenure of coach Mark Pope, a former Cougar assistant. BYU coach Dave Rose deserves credit for booking this game, and his team responded well in an atmosphere unlike anything UVU’s students ordinarily generate.
Asked if he thought the Cougars would be willing to return to Orem in a couple of years, Pope managed to smile. “In fact,” he said, “they may want to play all the games here.”
Even while enjoying a 27-point win, Rose was not ready to book another visit yet. “We’ll deal with that another time,” he said. “Mark and I talked a lot about this when he got the job and he really wanted this series to really help him get this thing going. And he has. He’s got this thing going. I’m excited for him. But we’ll leave that for another day.”
In any case, the Wolverines soon will go back to playing in front of their usual 3,000 or so fans. Pope’s team may have retained a higher percentage of Wednesday’s gathering, if not for UVU’s being so overwhelmed by BYU.
“They obviously know there’s something good here,” UVU guard Jake Toolson said, “but we weren’t able to get the job done tonight.”
The crowd of 7,574 was roughly 75/25 in UVU’s favor. The volume was more like 90/10, thanks to the UVU students. They usually show up by the dozens, as opposed to the thousands, and they were into this thing from the start.
Maybe that was UVU’s problem. The Wolverines stayed in the team framework and played with more poise at Kentucky and Duke this month than they did Wednesday. “It felt like we were all trying to fix it on our own,” said Toolson, a BYU transfer who scored 14 points for UVU.
The Cougars performed well in the inhospitable environment that UVU’s students tried to create. BYU will face a more hostile reception Saturday in Logan, where Utah State’s notoriously loud, harsh student section will be primed for the Cougars’ first visit since 2014.
In Orem, BYU’s defensive effort was considerably better than anything the Cougars showed against UVU last November. The Wolverines scored 60 of their 114 points in the second half of that game. This time, they couldn’t produce 60 points in 40 minutes. UVU recorded only six assists on 20 field goals, as the offense bogged down.
“Everything got so slow and stuck in molasses,” Pope said.
BYU had something to do with that, running the Wolverines off the 3-point line and making it difficult for the them to match the Cougars’ crisp passing. Having made a Marriott Center-record 18 3-pointers last year, UVU went 1 of 8 from that range. BYU’s McKay Cannon topped that total, with two shots of his own. Only hours after the Weber State transfer received word of his eligibility from the NCAA, Cannon posted eight points and six assists in 20 minutes.
That summarized how Wednesday went for the Cougars. Maybe they were being rewarded for doing a good thing for college basketball in the state by coming to Orem. They really should do it again. As Pope said, “Why wouldn’t they?”