Utes and Cougars ready to rumble

Neither the U men’s basketball team nor BYU can control their own destiny in the race for the MWC regular-season title, but in tonight’s matchup between the two schools, either team has a chance to solidify itself as the second-best team in the conference.

Since conference leader Air Force narrowly escaped with a 72 70 win over New Mexico on Saturday, the Falcons have clinched at least a share of the title.

If they win one of their next two games, then Air Force will win the conference title outright. “We are just focused on winning games and we are in a bad position right now, but all we can do is win,” U center Tim Frost said.

Now, the Utes have to focus on matching up against the hottest team in the conference in one of the toughest places to play in the country.

“They are playing well right now, and this is the best I have seen them play all season,” Frost said. “They are almost unbeatable at home.”

BYU is undefeated at home this season, and the last time they lost at the Marriott Center was last year against Utah.

“It’s a really tough place to play, but we just have to focus on the court and execute,” U senior Nick Jacobson said.

The crowd noise is absolutely intense and the Utes haven’t been very impressive on the road this year.

Utah has only won two conference road games this season, which is the main reason the Utes are in second place.

While the Utes have struggled on the road, the Cougars are playing very well, having won their last six games.

Even though the Cougars got off to a slow start in conference play, center Rafael Araujo and guard Mark Bigelow have put the team on their backs and carried them to second place.

Araujo is leading the team, averaging 18.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.

“We have to make sure we get a lot of pressure on him and make sure he is uncomfortable down low,” Jacobson said.

Earlier in the season at the Huntsman Center, Frost and center Andrew Bogut made it difficult for Araujo to operate down low.

Araujo only finished with eight points, shooting just 3-of-15 from the field.

The two 7-foot Ute centers confused and pounded Araujo with their size and strength. No other team in the conference has the size that the Utes have, which give Utah the advantage down low against a team like BYU.

Bigelow is second on the team in scoring with 13.7 points per game, and in the first half of the matchup against Utah earlier in the season, he showed just how great a shooter he can be.

He scored 14 of his season-high 22 points in the first half to build a 17-point lead for the Cougars.

But then, the Ute offensive powers started to heat up, as Bogut scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half.

Along with Bogut, the team’s leading scorer, Nick Jacobson, went off in final 10 minutes of the game and also finished with 21 points.

The Utes went on to complete the comeback with a 64-56 victory in acting head coach Kerry Rupp’s first game after Rick Majerus left the team.

“We just have be consistent on offense by getting the ball inside to Bogut and screening for Nick,” Frost said.

Jacobson knows how much of an advantage the Utes have with Bogut in the middle and what it means to the team to get him the ball.

“We have to work the inside-out game a little bit more with Bogut, which will free us up on the outside to hit some perimeter shots,” Jacobson said.

If the Utes win, then they will have virtually locked up the second-place slot, since they will have the tiebreaker over the Cougars.

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