Sometimes a win is just that: a win. And sometimes, a win just means a bit more in the grand scheme of things. On Wednesday night, in front of a capacity crowd at the UCCU Center in Orem, Utah Valley picked up a win that may have sparked a fan base.
Led by reigning WAC Player of the Year Fardaws Aimaq, the Wolverines picked up their first-ever win over an AP Top-25 ranked team. Aimaq had 24 points and 22 rebounds to lead Utah Valley to a 72-65 overtime win over 12th-ranked BYU. Sophomore guard Justin Harmon had 24 points and 7 rebounds off the bench for Utah Valley. It wasn’t the cleanest game. But, as it has done three other times this season, Utah Valley won in overtime with timely defense and late-game free throws. Here are three takeaways from a monster win for Mark Madsen and the Wolverines.
Believe the Hype of Fardaws Aimaq
In 2020-21, Fardaws Aimaq won the WAC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Aimaq did something no other college basketball player has done in the last 40 years. The British Columbia native averaged 15.0 rebounds per game. Through eight games in 2021-22, Aimaq is pulling down 14.8 boards per game while averaging 20.8 points. Aimaq is also averaging 4.0 blocks per game and shooting nearly 53 percent from the field. And ‘Big Maple’ as he is referred to by his teammates, is catching on to some who previously didn’t believe.
Huge win for WAC squad Utah Valley over #12 BYU tonight. Wasn’t a big Fardaws Aimaq believer last year, but I have made a complete 180 on that take. Dude is awesome for the Valley.
— Colin Deaver (@ColinDeaverTV) December 2, 2021
Since a season-opening loss at Boise State, Aimaq had recorded seven straight double-doubles and has scored in double figures in all eight games this season. On Wednesday night, it didn’t matter who BYU threw at him or whether or not a double or triple team came. To go along with his big performance, Aimaq also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers. The second one game Utah Valley the lead for good in the overtime period. Believe the hype of the coaches’ choice for preseason WAC Player of the Year and who is on the Lou Henson Player of the Year award watchlist. It is real.
Justin Harmon is a Baller
On Wednesday night, it took Utah Valley nearly eight minutes to finally get to four points. Enter Justin Harmon who scored four straight points to spark the Utah Valley offense. And Harmon’s night was necessary for Utah Valley to pull off the upset. The sophomore guard who transferred to Orem from Baron Community College had a career night. Harmon had 24 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the win. But it wasn’t just the points that helped UVU win the game. Harmon was also tasked with defending either Alex Barcello or Te’Jon Lucas most of the night. And yes, Alex Barcello finished with 17 points and 11 boards.
But it didn’t come easy. Barcello was 6-16 from the field and his only 3-pointer came in overtime when the game was over. Harmon was physical and quick all night. This sophomore guard will have to have more special nights like this throughout the 2021-22 season. Maybe he plays off the way his head coach used to play the game. Or maybe he realizes his role has to increase. But Justin Harmon is a baller and has been really, really good for Utah Valley so far this season.
It’s a Rivalry
You know, I am sure BYU fans don’t look at Utah Valley as a rival. It’s like a big brother complex and they can’t admit that it is a rivalry. But, with the atmosphere at the UCCU Center last night, it most definitely is. And what’s better is that Utah Valley has won in this rivalry. Yes, the Wolverines are just 2-5 against BYU. But, the Wolverines have the all-time record for most points scored by an opponent in the Marriott Center. And now, Utah Valley has a win over a top-25 ranked BYU squad who has aspirations of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
What’s more, if you look through the attendance records for BYU basketball you will notice a trend. The Utah Valley-BYU game is at or near the top of highest attended games at BYU. And for Utah Valley, it is rare to see the UCCU Center packed to the rafters but that is what has happened both times BYU has come to Orem. There are bragging rights. It forces students to choose who to root for especially UVU students who might also be closet-BYU fans. Donors who split their time between the two schools have to make a choice who to root for.
— WACHoopsDigest (@WACHoopsDigest) December 2, 2021
But the biggest reason is the amount of transfers from both schools to the other. Connor Harding and Blaze Nield played at BYU. Spencer Johnson, Richard Harward and even freshman Trey Roberts either played at UVU or were committed to UVU at one point. Both Utah Valley and BYU were on the final list for UNLV transfer Trey Woodbury two years ago. But Woodbury spurned BYU to go to Utah Valley.
Even in the administrations, there are ties between the schools. Associate Athletic Director Liz Darger at BYU was an assistant women’s basketball coach at Utah Valley. Utah Valley Associate Athletic Director Cathy Nixon played basketball at BYU. Women’s basketball coach Dan Nielson and most of his assistants were at BYU prior to coming to Utah Valley. You get the point.
The Wolverines are 7-1. Four overtime wins. Two wins over the West Coast Conference. A potential National Player of the Year. All is well in Orem on this Thursday morning.