Utah Utes vs. Brigham Young Cougars Pick & Prediction DECEMBER 9th 2023


No. 14 BYU puts its undefeated record on the line Saturday when it heads 45 miles north up the freeway to face fierce rival Utah in Salt Lake City.

It will be the 264th meeting between the programs, and there is a lot at stake with the Cougars (8-0) not only unblemished but also ranked No. 1 in the NET rankings.

Utah (6-2) would like to end BYU’s perfect start and also halt its recent struggles against Cougars. The Utes have dropped five of the past six matchups in a series BYU leads 134-129.

Utah also could be without its top player, center Branden Carlson, who missed the Utes’ 88-86 home victory over Southern Utah on Tuesday.

Utes coach Craig Smith didn’t divulge Carlson’s ailment but said his leading scorer (17.3 points per game) badly wants to play on Saturday.

“This is obviously Utah versus BYU,” Smith said. “(He is) a guy who grew up in this state and from the time he was little he has always been following it. I know it means a lot to him. I guarantee he will do everything he can to play. I just don’t know.”

Utah has won three straight games, but let a 17-point lead get away before holding off Southern Utah.

BYU will be playing its first true road game of the season. The Cougars had no issues in their tune-up, routing visiting Evansville 96-55 on Tuesday.

It was BYU’s 13th straight nonconference victory, a streak that includes last season’s 75-66 home win over the Utes.

The rout of the Purple Aces marked the sixth time this season that the Cougars won by at least 28 points.

BYU coach Mark Pope said none of his players are worried about streaks or margin of victory.

“We’re just trying to get our guys lost in the details right now, and that’s fun,” Pope said. “I’ve never coached a team where they’ve been so focused on the game on the court and are never distracted by wins, the media, the opponent or where we play. They care about the details.”

The Cougars are thriving on long-range shooting, defense and depth.

BYU leads the nation in scoring margin (32.9 points per game), 3-pointers per game (12.9), 3-point percentage defense (22.4) and bench points (40.8). The Cougars rank seventh in scoring defense at 59 points per game.

BYU has made at least 10 3-pointers in each of the eight games, setting a program record. Leading scorer Jaxson Robinson (16.9 points per game) has made a team-best 25 treys, and second-leading scorer Trevin Knell (12.1) has knocked down 22.

In all, seven BYU players average more than nine points per game. Spencer Johnson (11.9) is the team leader with 5.1 assists per game, while Noah Waterman (11.3) averages a team-best 6.8 rebounds.

The Cougars are much improved over the team that went 19-15 last season.

“It’s 100 percent a growth thing, and we’re in this, not just for this year but for next year also,” Pope said. “We can bring the vast majority of these guys back next year, and when you have a really special group of people in the locker room with growth mindsets, you get to grow. And these guys have.”

If Carlson sits again, Utah will look to Keba Keita, who scored a career-best 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting against Southern Utah. Keita, a sophomore, is averaging 10.3 points and a team-best 7.0 rebounds.

“The game is slowing down definitely for me,” Keita said. “I’m able to see some things now that I didn’t last year.”

Gabe Madsen (14.3) and Rollie Worster (11.1) also average in double digits. Worster contributes a team-best 5.9 assists per contest.

–Field Level Media

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