OREM, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Mark Pope must be fearless.
His Utah Valley University basketball team opens the season with perhaps the toughest 24-hour stretch in college basketball history.
On Friday, the Wolverines play at #4 Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Then the very next day, the Wolverines square off against #1 Duke.
But Pope, who won a national championship as a player at Kentucky in 1996, says this is a great way to see how his team stacks up against the nation’s best.
“I feel like we’re really fortunate to go the first game of the season and just see where we are, and sometimes that’s terrifying,” Pope said. “Sometimes it is terrifying to put yourself out there and see exactly where your program is right now. But it’s going to be good for us.”
If Utah Valley achieves its ultimate goal of getting to the NCAA Tournament this season, they would play a team like Kentucky or Duke in the first round.
The Wolverines upset BYU last year at the Marriott Center, and while Kentucky and Duke are on a different level, Pope says his guys are up for any challenge.
“I don’t have any guys who are the chosen ones or the blue bloods,” Pope said. “Everybody has struggled, everybody on my team has failed, they’ve all endured setbacks. So this is a great opportunity for us to go try to win some people would consider impossible games and learn from it.”