SALT LAKE CITY — The stage is set for a hardwood Holy War as the Runnin’ Utes(4-3) meet the BYU Cougars(6-4) in the Beehive Classic this afternoon.
The noon tipoff at Vivint Smart Home Arena is the start of the second installment of the three-year round-robin-style tournament. The two teams meet on a neutral site for the first time in over 12 years, the last one being a Utes win in the 2006 Mountain West Conference Tournament.
Saturday’s Beehive Classic marks the 258th meeting between the Runnin’ Utes and BYU. It’s been about as even as possible throughout the series and the 129-128 record reflects that. This is just the 12th time the teams have met on a neutral site, BYU leading 6-5 in those contests.
THE RUNNIN’ UTES
The Utes have had success in Salt Lake City this year, going 3-0 in their early home slate, but the short trip downtown won’t likely have the same home court atmosphere that the Huntsman Center does. Utah has been out of action for a week now, their last game a 69-64 win over Tulsa.
Leading the charge for Utah is senior guard Sedrick Barefield. Averaging just under 14 points a night as well as leading the team in assists, the Corona, CA native moves the needle for the Utes offense. They go as he goes – so far this season, it’s been up and down.
Barefield, along with fellow senior Parker Van Dyke, have been the Utes only real threats from beyond the arc so far this season. The backcourt tandem is a combined 28-of-73(38%) while the rest of the team is a combined 34-of-97(35%).
Sophomore Donnie Tillman mans the front court for Utah. A versatile wing, Tillman has the size to go to battle in the paint and the mobility to play on the perimeter. Tillman enters Saturday’s tilt averaging 11.6ppg and a team-best 7.1rpg.
The freshman trio of Riley Battin, Both Gach and Timmy Allen have contributed early on for the Utes. Each of the three average between 7-9 points per game and have taken turns with breakout performances.
At center, the Utes employ a two-man rotation between seven footers Jayce Johnson and Novak Topalovic. Topalovic is a fairly traditional, back-to-the-basket scorer who provided needed depth while the defensive energizer bunny of Johnson was rehabbing from a foot injury. The two while each need to be on top of their game Saturday against one of the premier big men in the west, Yoeli Childs.
BYU enters the rivalry game on the heels of another in-state battle against the Aggies of Utah State. The Cougars bested USU 95-80 in Provo thanks in part to 31 points, 7 rebounds and 5 steals from Childs. Through 10 games, Childs leads BYU in scoring(22.9) and rebounding(11.4).
TJ Haws has been the steady hand for BYU’s backcourt, scoring 16 points-per-game in the early stages of the season. His production has been bolstered by the absence of guard Nick Emery, who returned to action Wednesday night against USU.
Emery, famous for the punch he threw at former Ute guard Brandon Taylor three years ago, missed last season and the first nine games of this season due to controversy surrounding his acceptance of improper benefits from team boosters. Getting Emery back will surely take a load off of Haws and help the Cougars improve their numbers from three point range.
BYU is the odds on favorite in this one, as the spread has moved to -3.5 in their favor. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives BYU a 72.8% chance of winning, Utah at 27.2%.
WHERE? WHEN? HOW?
The Beehive Classic is held at the home of the Utah Jazz, Vivint Smart Home Arena. The 12p.m. tipoff can be watched on ESPNU with Roxy Bernstein and Caron Butler.
Bill Riley and Jimmy Soto have the radio call on your Home of the Utes, ESPN700. Pregame coverage with Porter Larsen and JP Chunga gets going at 10a.m.
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