The Edge

By Cody Brunner

Perimeter offenseAfter a lackluster start to conference play, Johnnie Bryant is back to where he once was in terms of scoring offense. His play carried the Utes during center Luke Nevill’s absence last week, and he will likely absorb a larger role heading into the conference tournament. Utah guard Ricky Johns lit up the scoreboard for 30 points in the Utes’ latest win over San Diego State, shooting a blistering 6-for-7 from behind the three-point line. Meanwhile, teammate Shaun Green continues to be one of the best three-point shooters in the nation, connecting on 55.3 percent of his shots from behind the arc. With the majority of BYU’s scoring coming from inside the three-point line, the Cougars don’t have a definitive outside-scoring threat. In the last meeting between the two teams, Jonathon Tavernari came off the bench to shoot 3-for-7 from behind the arc, but the Utes will surely be ready for him this time around.Edge: Utah

Perimeter defenseIf there is any question about which team this category goes to, you do not follow Utah basketball. Perimeter defense has plagued the Runnin’ Utes this entire season. Statistically speaking, Utah ranks near the bottom of the nation in three-point field goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot 46.5 percent from behind the arc. On the other end of the spectrum, BYU is holding its foes to 33 percent from the three-point line. The Cougar defense, which has been the staple of the team’s success this season, held sharp-shooting San Diego State to merely 11.1 percent from three-point range last week. Edge: BYU

TransitionLet’s be honest: Neither of these teams have much of a transition game. BYU guards Lee Cummard and Jimmy Balderson have been forcing plenty of steals this year, but the large majority of Cougar points have come in set offense. Likewise, the Utes prefer a slower style of play, allowing Nevill to establish position on the low block before running their offense. The few times Utah has scored fast-break points, it has been Johnnie Bryant and Johns coming up with steals and running the length of the floor for the bucket. Edge: BYU

Post gameBoth the Utes and the Cougars focus most of their offense around the big boys down low. For BYU, Keena Young has been absolutely unstoppable from within 15 feet. Despite his size (6-foot-6, 215 pounds), the nimble forward didn’t have any trouble scoring points against the much larger Utes the last time around, putting up 21 in the winning effort. Combine that with the ever-solid post game of Trent Plaisted and you’ve got one of the strongest post games in the conference.For Utah, Nevill has been the staple of the offense this entire season, averaging 16.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Despite injuring his right hip a week ago, Nevill was the saving grace in the Utes’ double-overtime victory over New Mexico. The 7-foot-1 Aussie hit two free throws with 2.4 seconds left to ice the victory. Freshman Daniel Deane has also been coming on strong for the Utes lately, scoring points and grabbing boards in Nevill’s stead.Edge: BYU

Bench playUtah head coach Ray Giacoletti has toyed with his starting lineup quite a bit this year, so some of the “reserves” at the start of the year may currently be starters. Stephen Weigh and Lawrence Borha have provided plenty of perimeter support — be it through defense or an occasional three-pointer. Down low, Deane and David Foster have sufficiently filled the void in Nevill’s absence. On the other side, BYU guard Tavernari has come up huge for the Cougars in relief duty. In the last meeting between Utah and BYU, Tavernari came off the bench and scored 17 points in the winning effort.Edge: Utah

HustleThe Cougars are the only team in the Mountain West Conference that has a winning record on the road, and they have accomplished that with their hustle. Cummard is one of the scrappier players in the conference and comes up with big rebounds and steals on a nightly basis. Meanwhile, Utah has been blessed with a scrounger of its own in Deane. The 6-foot-8 forward has been especially effective cleaning up the boards. Last week against the Lobos, Deane grabbed seven rebounds (three offensive) in just more than 19 minutes of play. Add that to the feverish work ethic of Johns, and the Utes get the nod.Edge: Utah

CoachingIn his first year as head coach, BYU’s Dave Rose led the Cougars to an impressive 20-9 record last season, garnering MWC Coach of the Year honors. This season, Rose has already captured another 20-win season (22-7), and his team currently sits atop the conference in first place. Utah’s Giacoletti was even more impressive in his first year at the helm, finishing the 2004-2005 season with a 29-6 record and an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. But the last two seasons have been tumultuous for Giacoletti. After struggling through a 14-15 season a year ago, the Utes have struggled to make ends meet this season, winning only 10 of the 27 games they have played.Edge: BYU

MomentumBYU went on a roll late in the conference season, winning eight consecutive games before losing to San Diego State last Saturday. The Cougars bounced back on Tuesday with a victory over Air Force in Fort Collins, Wyo., putting a stop to the longest home-win streak in the nation and sealing at least a tie for the MWC crown. The Utes have suffered through an up-and-down rollercoaster ride this season but have found their rhythm lately. They will carry a two-game winning streak into Provo tomorrow, having beaten San Diego State and New Mexico at home in the last two games.Edge: BYU

HistoryUtah holds the all-time series record between the two teams at 124-119, but the Cougars currently have the longest home winning streak in the nation at 30 games. They have not lost in the Marriott Center since falling to Loyola-Marymount in their home opener of last season. Earlier in the year, the Cougars came to Salt Lake City and handled the Utes for 40-straight minutes, ultimately winning 76-66. The game was not nearly as close as the final score would indicate, with BYU leading by 21 at one point in the second half. Edge: BYU