The Utah Tech Trailblazers found themselves on opposite ends of the win/loss column in Thursday night’s conference openers.
Isaiah Pope and the Trailblazer me put together the definition of a ‘team win’ over visiting UTRGV. And the women made what could’ve been a massive blowout a somewhat competitive loss at Southern Utah.
Each side will need to have a fairly short memory as both have a huge opportunity to prove themselves on Saturday against Utah Valley.
In the season’s first installment of the Old Hammer Rivalry, each team will be facing hot Wolverine squads that are looking to continue their winning ways.
Here are three keys (per team) to Trailblazer victory on Saturday.
Men: Utah Tech @ Utah Valley, 2:00 p.m. MT ESPN+
Key Number 1: Win the Paint
Tanner Christensen vs. Aziz Bandaogo might be the most electrifying inside matchup that we will see all year in the WAC. Look for the two to light up the stat sheet on Saturday.
While the two true bigs go to war, it will be on the shoulders of Jacob Nicolds and Dancell Leter to lead the way on the boards. Combining for 22 of the teams 50 one boards on Thursday, UT will need a similar performance in Orem. Coupled with an aggressive inside game offensively that focuses on attacking Bandaogo.
Key Number 2: Only Let One Weapon Play Well
Justin Harmon and Trey Woobury are one of the best one-two punches in the conference. Fortunately for the Trailblazers, they already saw the best guard combo from the non conference slate in Justin Johnson and Will Johnston from UTRGV. Where they held Johnson to just 5 points and Johnston poured in 24. Look for Judkins to employ a similar game plan to deal with the Wolverine backcourt.
Key Number 3: Noa Gonsalves and Isaiah Pope
Cam Gooden left Thursday night’s game in the middle of the second half with an apparent groin injury. He did not return to floor and was in street clothes for a majority of the second half.
There is no official injury report. But, I am expecting not to see CG3 suit up on Saturday. That leaves the job of floor general to Isaiah Pope. Pope is more than capable of stepping into the role but that will more than likely take a toll on his scoring production. Noa Gonsalves will need to continue his sharp shooting and have a big time game for the Trailblazers.
Women: Utah Tech vs Utah Valley, 2:00 p.m. MT ESPN+
Key Number 1: Make Baskets
I’m sure every coach in the history of basketball wishes they could just tell their team to make a basket and your problems will be fixed. Unfortunately for head coach JD Gustin, that was the answer for Utah Tech on Thursday in Cedar City. The Trailblazers didn’t record a field goal until there was one minute left in the first quarter. Thereby making key number one, make baskets.
Key Number 2: Force Turnovers and Take Care of the Ball
Utah Valley turned the ball over 31 times in Thursday’s win over Grand Canyon. Posing a very solid opportunity for the Trailblazers to score a lot on the break. On the other side, if UT can stay under fifteen turnovers it should be smooth sailing in St George.
Key Number 3: Find That Missing 3-Point Stroke
The Trailblazers finished last season as a top-5 team, nationally, in 3-point shooting. Unfortunately, that knockdown ability has gone missing the last four games. Utah Tech has just one game shooting over 25 percent from deep. Getting Maggie McCord and Emily Isaacson going from outside will open up the lane for Breaunna Gillen and Amber Kartchner to do their thing.
Last season, we got a taste of how great this rivalry can be and I expect this season to be no different. Utah Tech brings two, far more experienced teams into the matchups this go around. That experience, along with the execution of these “Keys to Victory” should bring a sweep of round one of this year’s Old Hammer Rivalry