PROVO For BYU senior guard Sam Burgess, playing in-state games are something special. And tonight's matchup against Weber State falls into that category.
"In-state games are always a big deal, especially for the guys that are from Utah," said Burgess, an Alpine native.
He added that even those players from outside the state who have been in the program for a few years, such as Trent Plaisted and Lee Cummard, "know how big these games are, no matter how good or what the record of the team."
The No. 20 Cougars (6-1) have never lost in Provo to the Wildcats (2-4) in 16 meetings. That, plus bragging rights and the fact BYU is nationally ranked only magnify the importance of the game for Weber State, Burgess said.
"The game becomes bigger for them with us being ranked and with there being a little more attention on us. But for us, this is a game we have to win. It's just as big as Michigan State (which BYU faces on Saturday)."
And, of course, there is the familiarity factor.
Wildcat coach Randy Rahe recruited Burgess when Burgess was playing at Snow College and Rahe was an assistant at Utah State.
"Coach Rahe really recruited me when I was at Snow and I was close to going (to Utah State), so we have a little history together," Burgess said. "I know coach Rahe and a lot of the players on Weber's team. There's a lot of friendships. You always play harder against people when there's bragging rights involved. These games are a lot of fun."
Last year in Ogden, BYU edged Weber State in overtime, 73-69, thanks in large measure to a 27-point performance by former Cougar Keena Young.
"It was a very competitive game," Burgess recalled. "(Weber State) played really hard. We expect those guys to have their best game against us. We'll be ready for that."
"It was a great game," BYU coach Dave Rose said of last year's contest. "For our team, it started to define the personality of our team."
Looking at this year's showdown, Rose praised the Wildcat backcourt, comprised of a pair of seniors, Dezmon Harris and Brody Van Brocklin.
"Their guards are really quick. They like to play inside out. The guards are very athletic and very good shooters. We'll have our hands full," he said.
Senior forward Arturas Valeika is the only Weber State player averaging double-figures (12.7 points per game). He is shooting a team-best 58.7 percent from the floor.
Valeika, who is 6-foot-9, also averages 10 rebounds per contest. He grabbed a season-high 15 boards against Utah State in the season-opener."They'll have an advantage as far as their speed and quickness," Rose said. "We'll have an advantage as far as our size. We'll have to see how the game plays out. We'll try to play the way we normally play and see how that works, then make adjustments from there."