College basketball • Programs trying to earn best-in-state bragging rights.
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Spencer Butterfield didn't grow up in Utah, but he once harbored dreams of playing at BYU.
That's part of the Utah State senior's drive on Saturday: To beat the team he once thought he could play for. It's one of the many passions on both sides of the court that only an in-state rivalry can truly ignite.
"That's one of our goals: To be the best team in Utah," Butterfield said. "We definitely have motivation to beat them, and we know they'll have motivation to beat us, too."
On Saturday night at 7, Salt Lake fans will have a chance to see two teams vie for the right to be called the best in state. A fast and high-scoring BYU (5-2) team will go against Utah State (5-0) and its more structured style in the 230th installment of a series that goes way back.
The contrasts have made for hotly contested games that almost always end up favoring the home-court team. That's why playing on neutral ground adds an extra element to an already tight game.
"They usually go right down to the wire," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "Last year, it was a last possession shot off a rebound that won the game for us. I know our guys are really looking forward to it, and hopefully there's a great crowd in there and there's good energy."
The Cougars have only lost two games, but both were to top-10 opponents. BYU has rung up big wins behind the sure-shooting Tyler Haws and fleet-footed Matt Carlino, who account for nearly half the team's points. Forwards Eric Mika and Kyle Collinsworth also average double-digit points for the Cougars, who play at one of the fastest paces in the country and average more than 88 points per game.
Utah State doesn't play as quickly but has been efficient on the offensive end. Center Jarred Shaw is the team's leading scorer and rebounder inside, but Preston Medlin and Spencer Butterfield are equally adept at racking up points beyond the arc. The Aggies have shot 45 percent from 3-point range and outrebound their opponents by an average of 11 boards.
Given the teams' history of tight games and their successes this season, each coach has a healthy respect for the other's program. On either squad, there's a number of different players who can have an big night.
"In your preparation, you're trying to figure out how to deal with all of them," Morrill said of the Cougars. "It's not a matter of this guy or that guy. They have good players at every position and are outrebounding very good opponents. All the players are capable."
One thing both teams are working on is defense. BYU has allowed 80 points per game, in part a consequence of its style. But in their most recent game, the Cougars led Witchita State early before letting the game get out of hand late. Utah State beat Weber State in its last game but struggled against the Wildcats' dribble penetration.
Utah State vs. BYU
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • BYUtv. Radio • 1160 AM, 1280 AM
Records • USU 5-0, BYU 5-2
Series history • BYU leads 137-92
Last meeting • BYU 70, USU 68 (Feb. 19, 2013)
About the Aggies • Utah State had four players score in double figures against Weber State, the second time the team has accomplished that since opening the season at USC. … Jarred Shaw scored 20 against the Wildcats, his second game of 20 or more this year and fourth game in double figures.
About the Cougars • Tyler Haws failed to score at least 20 points for the first time in his last 11 games when he posted 17 points in the loss to Wichita State. Haws did move into the 22nd spot on BYU's career scoring list, passing Alan Taylor. … Freshman Eric Mika has scored in double figures in six straight games. … Nate Austin was ejected with 45.3 seconds remaining in the Cougars' last game, a 75-63 loss to Wichita State, after a flagrant 2 foul. He had grabbed 12 boards to record double-digit rebounds for the third time in his last four games. He is expected to play against the Aggies.