The No. 13 Runnin' Utes head to Utah county tonight to take on BYU. Utah seemed to turn the tide last season in the Hardwood Holy War, blowing out the Cougars at the Huntsman Center, 81-64. This time the Utes might not be as fortunate.
Reason 1 - Provo:
The Marriott Center will be rocking. When 20,951 people are making a ruckus, the football stadium-like atmosphere would intimidate most good teams in college basketball. It is a tremendous home court advantage and an advantage that the Utes will need to manage early. It is a crowd that shows no mercy. Referees are not immune, as an Internet search will show, from throwing objects on the court with, to harsh chants of "Worst Ref Ever!" If the crowd gets into the game, the younger Utes players may be affected most. A few good runs by the Cougars, and the crowd will hit a deafening roar, a situation in which the Utes can't afford to find themselves.
Reason 2 - Absence of Jordan Loveridge:
Another thing that the Utes have going against them is their star from last year's match up, Jordan Loveridge, is out after having knee surgery a week ago. Loveridge, being a local player, seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder, scoring 21 points and pushing the Utes to an early 10-2 lead. BYU never quite recovered. Will a player local like Brekkott Chapman play with the same emotion that Loveridge displayed in the game last year? Utah was without Jordan last week in their victory over Wichita State, and they got needed production from all around to make up for his absence. They'll need more of the same Wednesday night in hostile territory.
Reason 3 - Tyler Haws:
Tyler Haws may be the best college player in the state. Obviously, many Ute fans would beg to differ, but the senior from Alpine, Utah is averaging 24 points per game. He's shooting 51 percent from the field, 92 percent from the line, and 41 percent from behind the arc. Compare that to Delon Wright who is averaging 15 points per game, 58 percent from the field, 75 percent from the line, and 47 percent behind the arc, and one can see that Haws is a player that can do some damage if he isn't contained. The Utes will have to find a way to slow him down and force others to beat them. If not, Haws could make it a long night for the Utes, as he too knows what this game means to the state.
The Utes will have an uphill climb Wednesday night in Provo. If the Utes keep the emotion of the game in their favor, they will have a chance to get a quality road win. If things don't go their way, and they let the crowd, a missing contributor, and Tyler Haws get in the way, then the Utes will see a loss down south.