Utes and Cougars fighting for second place

Usually the final game between BYU and Utah has some weight in terms of a conference championship, but this season it seems all the two teams are playing for are second place and pride.

After the Air Force loss, the Utes are two games back of the Falcons and have little chance to catch them, considering Air Force only has to play UNLV, San Diego State and Wyoming, with two of the three games being at home.

“I think everyone is still excited to play and the race for the regular-season title is not over, but we need to focus on the BYU game because the winner will at least be in second place,” U senior Tim Frost said.

Even though the Falcons are two games ahead of the pace, the hottest team in the conference is BYU, as they have won five straight, including Monday night’s 67-61 win over Air Force.

Not only are they on fire, but they will get to play Utah at home, and as they showed in the last meeting with the Utes, they can beat the Utes, at least for a half.

At the Huntsman Center, the Cougars built up a 17 point lead until early in the second half when the Utes completed an amazing comeback and defeated the Cougars, 64-56.

Now the Mountain West Conference tournament seeding is starting to shape up and BYU and Utah are currently fighting for the second seed.

“It’s a big game for us and they are going to be excited,” Ute senior Nick Jacobson said. “It will feel different, since usually it’s for the title, but it’s very important for seeding because nobody wants to get the fifth or sixth loss going into the tournament.”

The tournament is especially imperative to Utah, since winning the title may be the only way the Utes can get into the NCAA tournament.

Even though Utah has 20 wins, which usually is a positive indication to the Selection Committee in considering at-large entries to the NCAA tournament, the lack of quality wins really hurts the Utes’ RPI.

Utah State is the only win the Utes have over a ranked team and losing a home game to Air Force may have burst the Utes’ chance of receiving an at-large bid.

So, not only do the Utes have more riding on the MWC tournament this season, but they also have to worry about the rest of the postseason.

“We can’t really worry about an at-large bid or the NCAA tournament,” Frost said. “All we can worry about is BYU.”

At this point, if the Utes finish with the No. 2 seed, they would play Colorado State, who the Utes beat twice this season.

But the Rams are tied with Wyoming for the seventh spot and the Cowboys beat the Utes in Laramie a couple weeks ago.

If the Utes lose to BYU and end up with the third seed in the conference, they would play New Mexico, who they absolutely demolished Monday.

But playing New Mexico on a neutral court is much tougher than playing them at the Huntsman Center, as the Lobos have lost 25 consecutive games on the road.

In New Mexico, the Lobos gave the Utes no chance throughout the entire game and won, 70-54. So, the advantage that the Utes have on the Lobos may not be as great as it seems.

Regardless, the Utes do not control their own destiny after the loss to Air Force and will probably have to rely on winning the tournament.

“Obviously, if we won on Saturday, we would feel a whole lot better and the situation would be different, but we are where we are and we just have to look forward,” Jacobson said.

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