Cougar time

In recent years, men’s basketball games against BYU have normally been a fun reprieve from the grueling regular season, affording the Runnin’ Utes a chance to beat up on their rivals and add another win.

But that is not the case this season, as many things that came easily in past seasons are suddenly not to be taken for granted. The Utes (10-10, 3-6 MWC) come into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. tilt at the Huntsman Center in seventh place in the MWC and are trying desperately to keep from falling further down the totem poll in a conference they owned as recently as a year ago.

The fact that their opponent tonight is archrival BYU (14-6, 6-3 MWC) takes a backseat to the reality that the Utes need to get back on the right track as the conference tournament looms one month away.

“I don’t think it’s any bigger just because it’s BYU,” Ute head coach Ray Giacoletti said. “We need to find a way to take care of it at home whoever it is against, and it just happens to be BYU.”

The Utes have won 11 in a row in the Huntsman Center against the Cougars, including a come-from-behind win over BYU last year in Giacoletti’s first season. But as with the struggling Utes, the Cougars are a new team.

Freshman center Trent Plaisted has come into his own as the season has worn on and is an integral part of why the Cougars have won four in a row, including a 77-71 win at New Mexico last week. The 6-foot-11-inch newcomer is averaging a team-high 13.5 points per game and ranks second on the Cougs with 5.7 rebounds. Plaisted scored 12 points in the teams’ last showdown, a 72-60 Cougar win in Provo on Jan. 7.

“He’s playing real good, and everybody around him is getting him the ball and making their own shots,” Ute forward Bryant Markson said.

Markson may well have been the Ute hit hardest by the January loss in Provo, as he was on the verge, and occasionally past the verge, of vomiting throughout the game. Assuming he doesn’t come in contact with any now-infamous Japanese food, Markson will be 100 percent against BYU, giving the Utes an athletic option against the deep BYU squad.

“No sushi’s being eaten,” Markson said. “I’m staying away from all the food, and I’m just ready to play. The New Mexico loss hit me pretty hard, and I just want to come out and play BYU.”

Markson will be counted on to help counter BYU’s extensive group of sharpshooters. BYU is first in the MWC in points per game and second in three-pointers made. While the Cougs only made 5-of 16 three-point attempts the last time the two squads met, Giacoletti knows that BYU is always on the verge of a big run.

“(Rashaun) Broadus, (Mike) Rose, (Lee) Cummard, (Jimmy) Balderson, they all can shoot the hell out of the ball,” Giacoletti said. “There is no guy you can help off of because they can all shoot it freely and shoot it confidently. They really spread the defense.”

After they take on BYU, the Utes head back on the road where they face San Diego State on Saturday at noon.

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