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Basketball rivalry: Utes, Cougars go back & forth

Published January 29, 2010 7:22 pm

Rivalry is not as volatile as football, but it still is big for the Utes, Cougars players and coaches.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

No question about it, the Utah-BYU football rivalry is as heated, intense and as bitter right now as it has ever been. The buzz is palpable almost from the beginning of each season, and reaches a fever pitch in the week leading up to the annual game.

The Utes-Cougars basketball rivalry?

Well, not so much.

While their brethren from the gridiron have been butting heads the last four years as top-25 programs, the basketball teams have seemingly taken turns being strong and mediocre. With the exception of last year -- the Utes and Cougars tied for the regular-season title in the Mountain West Conference with New Mexico -- when one team is up, the other is usually down.

The result is a less volatile series of games the past few years, and the fans have noticed.

"It's just not something I get stoked about, maybe because you usually know who's going to win," said Steve Sellars, a longtime Utah fan from Bountiful.

For instance, Saturday's rivalry game at the Marriott Center (7 p.m., The Mtn.) likely will not be a sellout, and Utah's Huntsman Center hasn't sold out for BYU since 2005, when 15,014 watched No. 13-ranked Utah edge past nine-win BYU in coach Steve Cleveland's last year.

Conversely, every BYU-Utah football game since the big coaching change of 2005 has sold out.

A BYU-Utah basketball game has not sold out since 2007, when 22,812 showed up in Provo to watch the Cougars beat the Utes 85-62 to win the Mountain West Conference regular-season title.

The teams tied with New Mexico for the MWC regular-season crown last year, but only 12,250 saw the 94-88 Utah win in overtime at the 15,000-seat Huntsman Center. BYU's 63-50 win in Provo drew a respectable 20,120 at a building that holds 22,700.

Where's the buzz, the juice, the pure venom that this rivalry had in the days of Rick Majerus and Roger Reid -- and before that Danny Ainge and Danny Vranes?

In the 1990s, when Utah dominated the series, guys such as Keith Van Horn and Andre Miller rarely lost to the Cougars, if ever, and were proud of that fact. Former Cougars such as Mekeli Wesley, Travis Hansen brought BYU even with Utah at the beginning of the recently completed decade after years of futility in the rivalry for the Cougars.

Current players and coaches insist the angst for each other is still there.

"I think it has been really exciting over the last few years," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "I know when [BYU's current staff] first got here, it was kind of one-sided, and that was tough. But we got them here a couple of times during that stretch.

"It is a great rivalry, one of the best in the country. I think we are somewhere in the ... 250 range as far as games being played [248]. And it is pretty even."

Utah leads the series 125-123, but BYU has closed the gap recently, having won five of the last six. In the ebb-and-flow that marks this rivalry, No. 12 BYU (20-2) has the upper hand right now over a 10-10 Utah team that the Cougars insist is much better than its record indicates, citing big Utah wins over UNLV, LSU and Illinois.

In his third season at Utah, coach Jim Boylen says the rivalry is "just as heated" as it has ever been. But he says there's more respect and friendship between himself and BYU's Rose than in other rivalries.

"I think the respect for the rivalry is better, in basketball at least. I don't want to talk for football," Boylen said. "There is a respect for the rivalry, but Dave and I can't control how the fans act. I don't try to do that. I don't condone the behavior of their fans or ours sometimes. But what I try to do is respect the game, rivalry and opponent and our guys are coached that way, too."

Rose said that when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last summer, one of the first coaches that reached out to him was Boylen. It's a gesture he greatly appreciated, but he doesn't think their friendship "softens" the rivalry in any way.

"I think that Jim and I have had a really good relationship since he has been the coach," Rose said "I think Ray [Giacoletti] and I had a good relationship before he left. But your relationship with the coach doesn't change what you want to accomplish on the court. And I think he will tell you the same thing. It is a big game for both teams. I think he wants his team to play well, and I sure want my team to play well."

drew@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">drew@sltrib.com

Sports writer Lya Wodraska contributed to this report.

Era: 2005-2009 | Series Record: BYU 6, Utah 5

Majerus coached the first 20 games of the 2003-04 season before assistant Kerry Rupp coached the rest of the season, and prior to 2004-05 Ray Giacoletti took over. His Sweet 16 team in 2005 swept the Cougars. But Dave Rose replaced Cleveland prior to 2005-06 and is 6-3 against the Utes, giving the Cougars the upper hand in the rivalry lately. Advantage » BYU

Era: 1990-94 | Series Record: BYU 8, Utah 6

At the beginning of the 1989-90 season, Utah hired Rick Majerus, BYU hired Roger Reid, and the rivalry was revived a bit after previous coaches Ladell Anderson of BYU and Lynn Archibald of Utah mostly swapped wins and losses for six years. Reid had the upper hand, slightly, in his first five years against Majerus, after a 1-4 start. Advantage » BYU

Era: 2000-2004 | Series Record: Utah 8, BYU 4

Having been hired prior to the 1997-98 season, BYU coach Steve Cleveland lost his first seven games to Utah before finally beating the Utes in the 2000 MWC tournament. Utah still dominated the Cougars in Majerus' final five years, but not as much as his middle years. Advantage » Utah

Era: 1995-1999 | Series Record: Utah 10, BYU 1

BYU beat Utah 64-57 on Jan. 3, 1995 to open this era, but the Utes would win the next 12 games between the foes. BYU coach Reid was fired eight games into the 1996-97 season in which the Cougars would win only one game -- against Utah State. Advantage » Utah

Packing 'em in?

BYU-Utah Basketball Attendance Last Four Years

YearIn ProvoIn SLC
200920,12012,250
200819,46014,224
200722,812*12,244
200613,14212,213

* -- Sellout

Utah at BYU

Today, 7 p.m., TV » the mtn.

Overall Series Wins Since 1990: Utah 29, BYU 19