Like many Miner fans, I grew up with a sincere hatred of BYU basketball. I remember the utter shock that swept El Paso after Kevin Nixon hit that shot in the 1992 WAC Tournament Championship. No player was ever more disliked by my dad than Danny Ainge- to the point where I still root against him as a general manager in the NBA. It's probably safe to say that most Mountain West and old WAC teams really enjoyed beating BYU. I'm sure many of those schools consider BYU to be their rival too.
But few of them have as rich a history of pure relentless dislike like BYU and UTEP had in the 1980's and early 1990's. You had the sense that a fan could rush the court with a broken beer bottle at any second. You had the sense that a brawl between players could erupt at any hard foul. It was different. It was special. And, the rivalry defined WAC basketball for a decade as UTEP and BYU both fought like animals for the right to be WAC Champions.
I've played this 4-5 times here, but it's worth playing again.
The old school Miner fans will remember that game vividly. Sadly, conference realignment and time have withered away a great rivalry down to just a distant memory for today's Miner generation. These UTEP players have surely heard stories and maybe even seen some of those videos. But, they don't feel any hate for BYU. How could they? That doesn't change the fact that tomorrow night, the Miner nation can watch UTEP, with Tim Floyd on the sidelines nonetheless, and recall memories of the modern glory days of Miner basketball while rooting for UTEP to not beat, but destroy with reckless abandon, the BYU Cougars.
Make no mistake about it, BYU is the best team the UTEP Miners have seen this year on the hardwood. The Cougars enter Thursday nights home game with an 11-1 record and ranked #23 in the nation. BYU's only loss this season came against UCLA who was playing with heavy hearts in the Wooden Classic. Would you have it any other way? UTEP is riding a 6 game win streak that includes victories over Michigan and Texas Tech. BYU is ranked, but a loss to UTEP would boot them out of the top 25. BYU is playing for their top 25 lives. UTEP is playing for a signature win that could be the difference between an NCAA Tournament appearance or the NIT.
This is as close as it gets to having that rivalry back.
Th Cougars are of course led by All-American Jimmer Fredette but they are far from a one-man show. The Cougars Fredette's game is based off of his tremendous shooting skills. He's hitting 35% of his three point attempts, 47% of his field goals (ridiculous), and he's the anti-Julyan from the line (88%).
Like I said, Fredette has some serious weapons on his team as well. The other starting guard, Jackson Emery, is also a senior. He's their Christian Polk. He's a solid second scoring option, a good defender, but every now and again when the matchups are right, he can explode for a 20 point game on offense.
Fredette and Jackson are a dynamic duo, but what scares me the most about BYU is the 1-2 punch they have down low in 6'9 forward Brandon Davies and 6'8 forward Noah Hartsock. These guys are big, strong, and will give Claude Britten and John Bohannon all they can handle on the glass. UTEP averages 35.5 rebounds per game (190th in the nation). BYU averages 41.1. That might not sound like a lot more, but the difference is startling. Those six rebounds a game are the difference between being ranked 190th and 23rd in the nation. Note that UTEP is doing a slightly better job rebounding over this six game win streak. From UTEP's official site:
UTEP has outrebounded five of its last six opponents -- including four straight -- after getting outboarded three times in its first five games of the season. The Miners have a 307-264 edge in defensive rebounds for the year, but have been dominated on the offensive glass (141-83). UTEP opponents are averaging 12.8 offensive rebounds per game, although the Miners have cut that number down to an 8.7 average over the
last three outings.
BYU's averages a stunning 82+ points a game, 12th in the nation. UTEP averages about 10 less than that and is ranked 129th. Yes, BYU's offense runs through Fredette, but Emery, Davies, and Hartsock make BYU a deep inside-out team.
Remembering last year: Don't forget that Randy Culpepper played perhaps the worst game of his season against BYU. He went 2/15 from the field in BYU's 83-77 win in El Paso. I'd expect Culpepper to thrive in this one, knowing that all the media focus will be on Fredette. This will be a chance for Culpepper to show the country that he's as good as anybody else out there. Yet another reason why I can't wait until tomorrows game.
Something to watch will be what Julyan Stone is doing on defense. Will Floyd use Julyan in the post? Perhaps on Hartsock? Or will Floyd use the 6'6 Stone to try and guard Fredette? Make Fredette shoot over him, I say. Or will Randy get a shot at Fredette? I don't see UTEP playing zone against BYU. The way CTF chooses to guard Fredette will shape the game.
Here is video of UTEP's Tim Floyd discussing BYU (Courtesy of UTEP Athletics)