‘Who’s tougher’: Utah Tech men’s basketball faces in-state opponent

The men’s basketball players celebrate after a game-winning shot Feb. 5 against rivals Southern Utah University. The Trailblazers are playing their next home game Dec. 2 against the UVU Wolverines, in which they hope to take what they’ve learned and apply it for a win against another in-state rival team. Miki Akiyama | Sun News Daily

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The Utah Tech University men’s basketball team laces up for a showdown against Utah Valley University this Saturday at 7 p.m. in Trailblazer territory.

Coming off a 73-66 win over Lindenwood University, the Trailblazers sit at 3-3 on the season. With a roster boasting a mix of seasoned veterans and promising new and young talent, this team is eager to defend their home court and secure another victory. 

On the other side of the court, the Wolverines come into this game with a stronger record of 5-2 on the year. This historical matchup record favors Utah Valley, leading the series 4-2. The last time these two teams faced each other, UVU came out on top with a 76-69 upset in the Burns Arena.

Beon Riley, a junior management major from Chula Vista, California, said Utah Tech has an advantage playing at home in front of the home crowd. 

“I feel like the fans ultimately help us play better,” Riley said. “I feel like we have to do our job and come out ready to play, but having all these fans in the arena supporting us makes a big difference.”

Riley is a transfer student from the University of Hawaii, but he is already finding success at Utah Tech. Standing at 6 feet 6 inches tall, Riley is currently averaging 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. 

Unisa Turay, a junior management major from Phoenix, is another new face on the team. He said adapting to a new team posed a challenge, but Turay said the team already has a strong bond. 

“At first it was a little difficult because it’s a brand new team with a bunch of new players,” Turay said. “We don’t know how each other plays, but with more practice and getting shots up together, I feel we’ve adjusted pretty well.”

Turay agrees with Riley about the home-court advantage; he said it is hard for a team to come in and beat them at home because of the familiarity of the court and the cheers of the home crowd. 

Head coach Jon Judkins said UVU has the upper hand since they’re a team that has been playing together for a longer time. He emphasizes the need for his team to play hard and be fundamentally sound all game.

“We’re going to know their stuff, and they’re going to know our stuff,” Judkins said. “There’s no tricks to that, it’s just gonna be who’s tougher. Who talks better defensively? And who is reading the right stuff and making the right plays.” 

This is Judkins’ 19th season as head coach for Utah Tech. He is a six-time Pacific West Conference Coach of the Year and became the first men’s coach in Utah collegiate basketball history to reach 500-win.

As the Trailblazers tip off against UVU, they will use the home-court advantage in their favor, in hopes of getting revenge from the last time they played UVU in the Burns arena.