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Provo • Officially, Wednesday night's ultra-important college basketball game at the Marriott Center will pit Utah State against Brigham Young University.
It could almost be billed as Utah State vs. Utah County.
That's because the BYU Cougars are expected to start four players who hail from Utah County Provo's Brandon Davies, Alpine's Josh Sharp and Tyler Haws and Orem's Craig Cusick along with Californian Brock Zylstra.
What's more, the first or second player off coach Dave Rose's bench, Nate Austin, is also from Utah County, along with key substitutes Ian Harward (Orem) and Raul Delgado (Springville).
Tipoff between the 5-3 Cougars and 4-1 Aggies is at 7 p.m. at the Marriott Center, and the game will be televised by BYUtv.
If there's ever been a more Utah County-centric roster at BYU, longtime observers can't remember it.
"I think it is really cool," said Sharp, who started his career at Utah. "We all have that connection with each other, having played with and against each other so much growing up. I definitely think it is abnormal."
Two of USU's four in-state players, coincidentally, are also from Utah County. Freshman guard Marcel Davis and freshman forward Quincy Bair are from American Fork.
Rose said the ex-Caveman stars "are really good players" and showed well when BYU coaches evaluated them, "but I think at the time our scholarship situation was pretty heavy in those spots."
The trend of BYU being stocked with local high school stars is likely to continue.
For instance, of the five prep players that BYU signed last month, two are from Utah County Lone Peak's Erik Mika and Nick Emery. Next November, Lone Peak's T.J. Haws and Orem's Dalton Nixon are expected to sign with BYU.
"I think that's a good thing," Sharp said. "There have been a lot of talented players come out of this area, and this state, and we are happy to represent the state and Utah County."
This annual matchup has generally meant more to the Aggies, who took a 69-62 win last year in Logan and have had a week to prepare for BYU. But Rose said he's gotten the sense from watching his guys practice the last two days after the Cougars were drilled 83-62 at Iowa State on Saturday that this encounter is more meaningful than usual, if that's possible.
"I think you could tell in practice today that the guys are excited to play this game, probably for a lot of reasons," Rose said. "One of them is probably because it is against an in-state team."
Utah State has played a softer schedule than BYU, but Rose said USU's win last week at the West Coast Conference's Santa Clara was impressive.
"They are really impressive," he said. "... It looks like a really strong Utah State team where the scoring is coming from both their post players, which is a trademark of [Utah State coach Stew Morrill]. "He's got good guard play. I expect a really good game tomorrow."