A year ago, Jake Toolson was on the bench when UVU upset BYU 114–101.
The former Cougar turned Wolverine was forced to sit out because of NCAA transfer rules, but just because he wasn’t playing didn’t mean his heart wasn’t invested.
“Last year was a great day for me and for a lot of other people,” Toolson said. “Sitting out and watching was just incredible. I was just so proud of the guys who were out there competing. Obviously, they knew my circumstance and all the things I had gone through. I felt like they went out there and played for me. This year it’s my turn to go out there and do it for everyone else.”
Toolson will suit up on Wednesday to play against his former team and teammates as UVU (4–2) takes on BYU (4–2) in the UCCU Crosstown Clash at a sold out UCCU Center.
BYU and UVU “family” ties run deep — so deep that the blood switches back and forth between bleeding blue and green. Besides Toolson, UVU has adopted two other former BYU basketball players: senior Isaac Neilson and junior Cory Calvert. Plus, BYU’s brother and former assistant coach Mark Pope now leads the UVU basketball team as the head coach.
“It doesn’t matter who we bring in here — it doesn’t matter if we brought Duke or Kentucky into our gym — because this game is more fun because it is our brother,” Pope said. … “It’s best because I’m terrified of the game. We’re all twisted up about what’s going to happen and that’s when you know you’ve got something good going.”
“After all the publicity we got from last game, a lot of people were saying that it was a fluke and it was BYU’s worst loss. It’s given me more motivation to come in and beat them.” — Isaac Neilson, UVU senior
Despite the two stadiums being just five miles from each other, the two Utah County universities have only crossed paths three times. BYU leads the small rivalry record 2–1, claiming victories in 2003 and 2015. Then UVU shocked Utah County when the team upset BYU in 2016.
In last year’s matchup, UVU came out on fire, shooting 48.6 percent from behind the arc, making 18-of-37 threes. UVU had more than four players who scored 20+ points in last year’s contest. Following the game, Neilson, who scored 26 points in last year’s win, called it “one of the greatest nights of (his) life.”
“Last year, for me it was confirmation that this was the right choice coming to UVU,” Neilson said. “After all the publicity we got from last game, a lot of people were saying that it was a fluke and it was BYU’s worst loss. It’s given me more motivation to come in and beat them. I’m sick of hearing everyone say that our team was a fluke last year. We worked really hard. We had really good players. And we outplayed them.”
Neilson and the Wolverines have a point to prove and they plan on doing it. But they know it will be a challenge.
“This year we know they’re going to be coming even harder than last year at us, especially on our home court. We’re just going to have to be ready,” Neilson said. “We’re going to have to play 10 times harder than last year and I believe our team can do that. We have a lot of skill. We have a lot of confidence in each other. We’re more unified this year.”
Pope says it will take dominating the boards, executing the offense and managing BYU’s array of shooters to win what he says will be a “backyard brawl.”
But the game is still seared into the minds of the few BYU player’s who were on the 2016–18 roster and they don’t want a repeat of last November. Only five of BYU’s players were on last year’s rosters. One of those was sophomore TJ Haws, who has had the memory of last year’s loss in the forefront of his mind this past week.
“We’re just really excited to play these guys again,” Haws said. “Just taking that lose last year and having that reminder every day, how that felt has been a huge motivation and a huge help and has helped us fill that energy each day in practice.”
With BYU’s fluid roster, Neilson, Toolson and Calvert have only played with a few of the players currently on BYU’s roster. UVU’s Neilson and Toolson both played with BYU sophomores Dalton Nixon and Ryan Andrus, who is out with an injury, as well as BYU junior Luke Worthington. In fact, Andrus, Toolson and Worthington were roommates while they played together.
“I’ve played against all the dudes down there. This isn’t as new,” Worthington said. “But I’m excited to go up against (Toolson in a game). He’s a good player, and we’ll do our best as a team to defend. The biggest thing we need to do is play our game. We know there will be a lot of emotions involved, but we are just going to play our game.”
BYU coach Dave Rose is excited to have an away game where his team doesn’t have to travel 3,000 miles to play. While Rose says proximity makes the game easier, “everything else will be harder.”
“There are no friends or good times this week. Those aren’t my roommates anymore. These are my guys and these are the guys I’m going to battle with and there’s nobody else I’d rather play this game with than this group of guys we have here this year.” — Jake Toolson, UVU transfer guard
“This is a 10-minute bus ride if you get the lights right. It’s just great for the community,” Rose said. “Mark’s got a really competitive team this year. He’s got a chance to really make some noise in his conference play and in the tournament. I’m excited for this valley and for this team.”
Both teams agree that this will be an exciting game.
“I think there is going to be great juice in the gym,” Pope said. “It’s going to be a really special gym because there will be as many BYU fans as there are UVU fans. You don’t get that in college basketball very much. You get that in tournaments, but that’s not a in a jam-packed gym. This is going to be a sold out gym where you have that vibe.”
Despite the weave of connections between the two universities, the Wednesday night matchup won’t be a family reunion for anyone.
“There are no friends or good times this week,” Toolson said. … “Those aren’t my roommates anymore. These are my guys and these are the guys I’m going to battle with and there’s nobody else I’d rather play this game with than this group of guys we have here this year.”
BYU and UVU take on each other on Wednesday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. at the UCCU Center. The game will be broadcast on BYUtv.