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Men's basketball: Another high-profile opponent awaits UNT

Profile image for By Brett Vito / Staff Writer
By Brett Vito / Staff Writer

More than three weeks have passed since North Texas had its last chance to show that it can hold its own against a nationally renowned opponent.

UNT hung early with Oklahoma on Nov. 11 before falling 95-82. The Mean Green has been on an upswing since and has won its last three games.

UNT (5-3) knows that streak will mean much more if it can have another good showing tonight at BYU, its second high-profiled opponent of the season.

“We have not had as many chances to show people how good we are,” UNT forward Colin Voss said. “That makes this game more important for us. If we can go over there and get a win, it would be a statement game before conference play.”

UNT won’t open Conference USA play until the second week of January.

UNT wants nothing more than to enter its first season in what looks like it will be a tough C-USA with momentum and has moved toward that goal in the last few weeks. UNT broke a two-game losing streak with a double-overtime win over Portland in its final game in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Nov. 23

The Mean Green then beat Incarnate Word and Southeastern Louisiana at home to complete a three-game sweep of Southland Conference rivals.

That streak didn’t do much to capture the attention of UNT’s fans.

A win — or at least a good showing — against BYU (6-2) would.

“This will be a big game for us,” UNT guard Brandan Walton said. “It’s always good to play against an opponent that everyone respects. A lot of people don’t think we can compete, but we can play with anyone as long as we come out aggressive.”

Senior guard Alzee Williams and junior guard Jordan Williams are averaging 16.3 and 12.3 points a game, respectively, to lead UNT.

The Mean Green will need all the firepower it can muster against BYU. The Cougars have scored at least 100 points twice this season, including a 112-103 shootout win with Stanford earlier this year.

BYU’s only losses came against Iowa State and Wichita State, which are both nationally ranked. Junior guard Tyler Haws is averaging 23.7 points a game and is one of four players averaging double figures for BYU.

“They have scorers and a lot of guys who can shoot the ball,” Voss said. “They are a really sound team that is balanced. It will be a test.”

The crowd that is always behind BYU when it is at home in the Marriott Center will make the game even more challenging. The Cougars are averaging 16,001 fans a game this season, close to double the 8,391 fans the Mean Green has drawn for all four its home games combined.

Two of the top five crowds to see a UNT game in program history have come at BYU, which has a 20,900-seat arena that ranks as the sixth-largest on-campus venue in the nation.

UNT played in front of a crowd of 21,758 in 1980, a record crowd for a Mean Green game. A 1989 game between UNT and BYU drew 17,607, which ranks as the fifth-largest crowd for a Mean Green game.

“This will be a great road trip for us and a great environment to play in at BYU,” Walton said. “This will be a big game for us. We have been preparing for it. We’re excited.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.