SALT LAKE CITY — Catching up on the local college basketball scene a month into the season ...
As was proven Saturday, the BYU-Utah rivalry is not much of one right now. The Cougars have won 10 of the last 11 games in the series that has been pretty even over the years (128-125 for BYU). The Cougars have won the last three games in Salt Lake by an average of 22 points and won each of the last three games in Provo by 13 points. The Utes can take solace in the fact that they only have to play the Cougars once a year. They also can remember they won 12 straight in the series between 1995 and 2000, so there's always hope for a turnaround ... sometime in the future.
BYU misses that Jimmer fellow, which forces them to go long stretches without scoring as they did Saturday at Utah. Still, they have a long, athletic team that should make the NCAA Tournament again this year, especially if UCLA transfer Matt Carlino, who joins the team this week, is as good as advertised.
If Utah players hustle and play with the intensity they showed Saturday afternoon, the Utes will not go winless the rest of the year as some are predicting. They obviously don't have the talent to compete with most opponents, but even talent-poor teams that play with passion and energy can come out on top occasionally.
Utah State, which lost to Wichita State Saturday, is having a rare down year, thanks to graduation losses (four starters) as well as an injury to starter Brady Jardine. The Aggies are just 4-5 right now, their poorest start under Stew Morrill and worst since 1995-96. However with four straight home games before a game at Mississippi State, the Aggies should go into WAC play at 8-6 and still have a shot at their 13th straight 20-win season..
Weber State, which got killed at BYU, but won easily over SUU last week, should cruise through the Big Sky this year under coach Randy Rahe. The Wildcats miss forward Kyle Bullinger, who was injured earlier in the month, but when he gets back, Weber should make a run at their first NCAA berth since 2007 behind Damian Lillard, the most dynamic player in the state.
Salt Lake Community College may not be the best team in the state, but it does have the best record at 10-0. The Bruins, coached by Todd Phillips, have eight players averaging between 6.1 and 11.1 points a game, including four players from Utah, one from Georgia, one from California, one from Ohio and one from Argentina.
Westminster College has been off for 10 days since defeating Northern Colorado of the Big Sky by 13 points on the road, one of the biggest victories in school history. The Griffins, off to a 10-2 start and ranked No. 11 in NAIA, are led by former Highland High all-stater Jake Orchard, who averages 16.7 points a game and Ben Walker, a forward from Lehi averages 12.7. Also A.J. Reilly, the older brother of Utah defensive lineman Trevor Reilly averages 9.9 points per game. Reilly played for Utah as a walk-on three years ago, while Orchard played football for the Utes immediately after an LDS mission in 2010.
Utah Valley knocked off Portland State of the Big Sky 93-87 Saturday behind 26 points from Holton Hunsaker. If that name sounds familiar, he is the son of head coach Dick Hunsaker. The Wolverines are 6-5 with all of their wins coming at home and all of the defeats coming on the road. Isiah Williams, a senior from Chicago, leads the team with a 15.6 scoring average, while Ben Aird, a 6-9 sophomore from Bountiful, averages 8.8 points and 6.6 rebounds.
Southern Utah fell to 4-5 on the season with an 18-point loss to Weber State Saturday. Like SLCC, the T-Birds are very well-balanced with all five starters averaging between 9 and 11 points a game. Two of the SUU starters hail from Australia. Coach Roger Reid needs a winning season after going 11-19, 11-20, 7-22 and 11-19 in his first four years in Cedar City.
Dixie State is off to a 4-4 start with a loss at U. of San Diego over the weekend. Coach Jon Judkins has a dozen Utah players on the roster, but leading scorer and rebounder Griffin Jones hails from Washington.
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