In-state games are fun. There is no denying that. They are fun for the fans, players, coaches and so forth. That is, if you win those in-state games. Since becoming a Division I program in 2002-03, the Utah Valley Wolverines have held their own in men’s basketball against in-state opponents.
The Wolverines are 2-2 against Utah Tech, 6-8 against Weber State and 2-5 against crosstown foe BYU.
In addition, Utah Valley is 0-2 against the University of Utah.
The big one is Utah State. Yes, the same Utah State that Utah Valley plays on Monday night in its 2022-23 season opener. The Wolverines are 0-13 all-time against the Aggies. In the last meeting on Nov. 16, 2018 in Logan, Utah State won 65-46 on a very poor shooting night by the Wolverines.
The closest Utah Valley has come to snapping the streak was 2016. Conner Toolson gave Utah Valley a 79-78 lead with 7 seconds remaining in overtime. But, for whatever reason, Utah Valley guard Brandon Randolph fouled Utah State guard Shane Rector with one second remaining.
Rector calmly sank both free throws and the Aggies walked out of the UCCU Center with an 80-79 win.
What will Monday night’s season opener bring to the table in the series?
Current Utah Valley head coach Mark Madsen has never coached in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. And the lone Wolverine to play against Utah State is Tim Fuller. As a member of the Weber State men’s basketball team, Fuller played 11 minutes against the Aggies at the Smith Spectrum in an 89-34 blowout win for Utah State.
So, this is a new experience for the entire Utah Valley roster.
“We’ve been working really hard on ourselves, trying to get better,” UVU head coach Mark Madsen said. “The first game of the year of any season is always challenge … It’s a big thing. Obviously, we’ve done a lot of prep. They’ve done a lot of prep. And it should be a great game.”
Great game, indeed.
Both Utah State and Utah Valley return quite a bit from the 2021-22 season. The Aggies return three starters in Sean Bairstow, RJ Eytle-Rock and Rylan Jones. Per Aggie beat writer Jacob Nielson, Bairstow and Jones will both start on Monday while Eytle-Rock will come off the bench.
Utah Valley returns three starters as well in Blaze Nield, Le’Tre Darthard, and Tim Fuller. But, the Wolverines also get Trey Woodbury back from a 2021-22 knee injury. And Tarleton transfer Tahj Small who started every game for the Texans last season.
Utah State returns five other letterwinners from the 2021-22 season. And Utah Valley also returns Jaden McClanahan, Tim Ceaser, and Justin Harmon. So, both teams are deep and experienced.
And both teams lost alot from the 2021-22 season.
For Utah Valley, big man Fardaws Aimaq moved on to the Big 12. Aimaq averaged 18.9 points and 13.6 rebounds per game for the Wolverines in 2021-22. For Utah State, Justin Bean and Brandon Horvath have both departed. Bean averaged 17.4 points and 9.9 rebounds while Horvath averaged 13.9 points and 6.6 rebounds.
Both teams have big time scoring voids to fill.
Key Matchups to Watch
The Sean Bairstow-Trey Woodbury battle will be fun to watch. But, that is not one of the two matchups to keep an eye on tonight.
First is the matchup in the paint. Utah Valley 7-footer Aziz Bandaogo against Utah State 7-footer Trevin Dorius. Both are key to protecting the paint for their respective squads. And whoever stays out of foul trouble may be the difference-maker in an in-state game. Dorius has been an Aggie his entire collegiate career. Bandaogo is playing his first game in the green and white.
The second matchup is at the point guard position. Utah Valley’s Tahj Small against Utah State’s Rylan Jones. Or Blaze Nield for Utah Valley. Or Jaden McClanahan for Utah Valley. You get the point. Mark Madsen has three point guards at his disposal led by Small at 6-5 who was one of the best defenders in the WAC in 2021-22.
Ryan Odom and Utah State counter with some guards of their own. Rylan Jones and Steven Ashworth are both experienced veterans that will have a say in the outcome in the Smith Spectrum.
Tip off is set for 7 p.m. MT. And fans can watch the game on The Mountain West Network. Or, for Utah Valley fans, they can listen on ESPN960.
Can the Wolverines snap a 13-game losing streak to the Aggies? It remains to be seen.