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Over the weekend, BYU men's basketball coach Mark Pope reaffirmed his love for rivalry games.
"They're super emotional. They're always tough," Pope said. "You can throw the rankings and the stats and everything outside the window."
Pope said that moments after his No. 12 Cougars (6-0) continued their hot start by pulling away from archrival Utah in the second half for a 75-64 road victory in Salt Lake City.
Pope could say the same thing -- and just might -- leading up to the Cougars' showdown Wednesday night in Orem, Utah, with nearby Utah Valley (6-1).
The close proximity of the Utah County campuses -- only five miles apart -- and the familiarity of students and the teams creates an intense and emotional setting for the BYU-UVU matchups, even if they have resulted in BYU wins in all but one of their five meetings.
The fact that Pope left his assistant gig at BYU to coach the Wolverines from 2015-19 and then returned to Provo to be the Cougars' head coach only adds fuel to the fire. BYU won 82-60 a year ago.
This one could be the most competitive matchup yet.
The Cougars vaulted six spots in the Associated Press rankings on Monday, thanks to impressive wins over Pac-12 foes Utah and Oregon, and a total of four 2020-21 NCAA Tournament teams, including San Diego State.
The Wolverines are off to the best seven-game start in school history, winning six straight since falling to Boise State in the opener. Their resume includes a nice road win at 2021 CBI champion Pepperdine.
Utah Valley standout center Fardaws Aimaq, a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year watch list nominee, was named the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Week after averaging 14.5 points and 15.3 rebounds. Aimaq, the nation's leader in total rebounds (96) and double-doubles (six), was also named SoCal Challenge MVP.
Aimaq scored 19 points with 14 rebounds in the Wolverines' 77-68 overtime win over Denver on Saturday. That win pushed the Wolverines to a 3-0 record in overtime contests.
Justin Harmon hit 4 of 8 field goals and 7 of 9 free throws for 15 points.
"I was proud of our guys," Utah Valley coach Mark Madsen said. "Our guys scrapped and fought. Justin Harmon made some huge plays down the stretch, got to the basket and made his free throws. Once the overtime hit, I think our experience from our other overtime games really helped us."
BYU also had a nice win about 35 miles up the freeway on Saturday. After falling behind 7-0 to the then-undefeated Utes, the Cougars used a 6-0 run of their own to tighten things up -- and then dominated the second half for their 15th win in the past 20 meetings with Utah.
Transfer Te'Jon Lucas (18 points) and Alex Barcello (17 points) led BYU in scoring, while Caleb Lohner, who once was committed to Utah, recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
"In the second half we defended a lot better, kept rebounding, things kind of started to go our way," Lohner said. "I think offensively in the second half we kind of had more pace -- a little bit quicker on the offensive end. ... I think guys kind of got their second wind in the second half, but proud of this team. It was a hell of a win."
--Field Level Media