Ray Giacoletti may or may not be a good coach, but if there has been one consistent thing about him it's been his ability to beat BYU. Since arriving at Utah he's 4-1 and will look to raise that mark to 5-1 with a victory against BYU tonight at the Huntsman Center.
The Cougars haven't won in Salt Lake City in 13 years and I really don't want to watch this streak end tonight. Though the Cougars have the better record and the more experienced team, Utah has the advantage of a home court and history on their side. With that said, if there is one year BYU could finally end the Huntsman Center Curse, it would be this one. The Cougars are currently tied for 1st in the conference, while Utah is tied for 8th with TCU. The stark differences between the two programs clearly parallel that of last year, where Utah entered the game as underdogs and left with a dominate home win. The Utes would then go on to beat BYU in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, 74-70.
Utah is coming off a 63-53 loss to San Diego State Saturday night. That loss snapped the Utes two game winning streak and once again sent them toward the bottom of the conference. During that game, the Utes blew an 11 point second half lead and wilted down the stretch, turning the ball over and shooting poorly from the field. This is a situation that will obviously need to change if the Utes are going to beat BYU, because high turnovers and poor shooting is always a recipe for disaster.
The Cougars on the other hand beat Air Force, giving the Falcons only their 3rd loss of the season. That win continued BYU's dominate play at home, but on the road it's a different story. The Cougars only own two road wins, and only one outside of the state of Utah. They've been beaten on the road against the likes of Boise State and Lamar, showing that BYU is less than impressive when away from the Marriott Center.
BYU averages 77 points per game and shoots 47% from the field. Their three point shooting isn't anything great, as they only shoot 40% from behind the arc. However the Utes have struggled at defending, especially against the three point shot. This common occurrence has really hurt Utah and is a big reason why they're struggling this year.
Senior Keena Young is the Cougars leading scorer, averaging 16 points on 54% from the field. Trent Plaisted, BYU's center, is second in scoring with 13 points per game. He also leads the team in rebounds with 6.7 on the season. Plaisted will go against Utah center Luke Nevill, who leads the Utes with 17 points and 8 rebounds. This matchup will definitely define the game, especially for Utah. The Utes have struggled when Nevill can't find his game and if they're going to win, he will need to dominate inside. Against Plaisted -- who has the misfortune of being known as soft -- I think Nevill will have the better game between the two.
If the Utes are going to win, they can't allow BYU to shoot over 50% from the field. The Utes are 0-7 this season when the opponent shoots 50% or better. Utah's offense also needs to find its game, as the past two outings have yielded some pretty poor results shooting wise. Though BYU won't be the best shooting team the Utes have faced this season, they're good enough that if Utah can't shoot over 40% from the field, they'll probably lose.
I think Utah is capable of winning this game, though I really don't know what to expect from them. They have played up to their competition all season and I expect the same tonight. I don't think the game will be nearly the blowout it was last year for Utah, but I think the end result will be the same. The Utes win by 10 and the Huntsman Center Curse lives on for BYU.