BYU and Utah Valley may be separated by only five miles, but the two programs are a lot closer than that.
Second-year BYU coach Mark Pope came to Provo after coaching the Wolverines four years, and BYU has three former Utah Valley players (Brandon Averette, Richard Harward and Wyatt Lowell) on the roster. On the visiting sideline, Utah Valley had two former Cougars (Colby Leifson and Blaze Neild) on the bench on Saturday night at the Marriott Center.
Having familiar players on both ends ended up providing BYU with its toughest and most physical game of the week, but the Cougars still came out victorious, 82-60, and improved to 3-0 on the season.
Grad transfer Matt Haarms wasn’t familiar with the importance of the BYU-Utah Valley game while he was playing for Purdue, but quickly learned about it.
“I mean, we took their coach, we took their best players, so I understand why they wouldn’t like us — and they’re right down the street,” Haarms said. “I think it’s very understandable why they don’t like us, and that came out in this game. It was a fight from beginning to end.”
The game started a bit slow for both teams — the Cougars missed their first seven 3-point attempts and were shooting less than 30% from the field — but the Wolverines settled in first, going on a 9-0 run to lead BYU by 10 points midway through the first half.
BYU was also losing the rebound game. But then the gears shifted.
Led by senior Alex Barcello, the Cougars closed out the half on a 30-6 run. Barcello made up 14 of those points on 5-of-8 shooting (4 of 5 from the 3).
The senior finished the game with team-high 20 points, along with seven rebounds and three assists.
“We’re down 18-8 and nothing feels right, guys are kind of sideways a little bit, and Alex and the entire rest of the team, we just got back to trusting each other,” Pope said. “We started with getting stops and trusting each other and then went on a 30-6 run. And yes, Alex Barcello was definitely the lead of that, but it was the entire team.”
A day before the Cross-town Clash, the Cougars received some bad news.
Junior Gavin Baxter will be out for the season with an ACL and meniscus injury, sustained the previous game. Because this season serves as a free-for-all, and Baxter played in less than a third of the season’s games, he will be able to play as a junior again next season.
In Baxter’s place, true freshman Caleb Lohner got the start, and Haarms also finally made his BYU debut.
Haarms sat out the first two games of the season with a sore ankle and didn’t have his first complete practice in a week and a half until Friday.
After the Cougars got their funk back, the momentum continued in the second half. And BYU quickly started to put the game away. Haarms was a key part of the second-half success, scoring five consecutive points. The grad transfer ended with 10 points on 80% shooting from the field.
“It’s really good to be able to come in there when the team really needs you,” said Haarms, who was on a time restriction.
BYU led by as many as 22 points in the second half, but Utah Valley went on a 12-0 run to stay in the game. However, the Cougars were able to adjust and the Wolverines ran out of gas.
The Wolverines were led by Trey Woodbury, who scored 24 of Utah Valley’s points on 10-of-17 shooting, and Jamison Overton, who shot 46% from the field and 75% from the free-throw line for 19 points.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” Pope said. “It’s been a terrific three games in four nights. They fought the whole time and really, really were able to fight through a bunch of frustration.”