It's not something you'd normally get excited about - a pair of teams tied for fifth place with sub-.500 league records meeting on the basketball floor.
But whenever Utah and BYU get together, it's a happening of major proportions no matter what the records. And that will be the case Thursday in the Huntsman Center when the two rivals meet at 7:30 p.m.A sellout crowd is expected and the game will be televised live on KUTV-Channel 2.
Both Utah and BYU come into the game with 3-4 Western Athletic Conference records which puts them behind Air Force, which is tied for third at 5-5. The Utes have a slight edge in their overall mark of 12-10 to 9-8 for the Y. Both teams lost home games to Air Force in their last league action, although the Cougars came back to defeat a good Wichita State team on Saturday.
At the start of the season, this game looked like it might be a mismatch in favor of Utah. But the Utes haven't lived up to their preseason expectations, while the Cougars have come along better than many figured. So now it looks like a pretty even match with the only apparent advantage going to the Utes for playing at home.
However, the home court hasn't made much difference over the years in this rivalry, which stands 100-97 in favor of BYU. During the past four years, the teams have split 4-4 overall, but each team has won twice at home and twice on the road. The only consistent factor the past four years has been that BYU has always won the first meeting and Utah the second. So the Utes better watch out.
One positive for the Utes is that their month-long bout with the flu seems to finally be over. The Utes should be the healthiest they've been all season. Meanwhile, BYU should be in good shape with Andy Toolson working his way back after breaking his hand four weeks ago.
Utah has been struggling with its outside shooting all year. While inside players Mitch Smith, Boo Singletary and Jimmy Madison are all hitting over 50 percent from the field, look at the figures for the guards. Mark Lenoir is hitting 42.5 percent, Van Gray 35.1, Bill Perkins 31.9, and Keith Chapman 31.8. Only Jon Hansen, who has started the past six games, is shooting well with a 53.7 percentage.
"Our biggest problem right now is our outside shooting," said Ute Coach Lynn Archibald. "For the most part we haven't shot the ball well outside all year."
The Utes will go with the lineup they've used for the past five games with Hansen and Lenoir on the guardline, and Smith, Singletary and Josh Grant inside. The Utes will have a decided edge in depth. Madison will see nearly as much time as the starters, while Chapman, Perkins, Gray, Walter Watts and Kurt Christensen should all see action.
It's the Utes' depth that has BYU Coach Ladell Andersen worried. "Utah's one of the better teams in the league and we're going to have our hands full trying to figure out who's going to be in there," he said.
The Cougars will counter with Toolson, Mike Smith, and Steve Schreiner inside and Marty Haws and Kevin Santiago outside. Mike Herring, Mark Heslop, John Fish and Alan Astle are the top Cougar subs.
"BYU is playing very well right now," said Archibald. "Toolson's back and he makes a big difference. And Mike Smith is one of the best."