Utah Basketball: Utes-vs.-Buffs rivalry in infancy stage
Utah basketball • It’s not there yet, but coaches, players say give it some time.
Published: January 31, 2014 08:05PM
Updated: February 3, 2014 04:20PM
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Larry Krystkowiak-Utah men's basketball coach Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011,in Salt Lake City Utah. Photo by Tom Smart/University of Utah Sports Information

Boulder, Colo. • On many levels, the similarities between Colorado and Utah can’t be ignored.

Both have intimidating homecourts, venues that can be difficult to navigate due to elevation and vocal fans. Both have intense head coaches who invoke old-school philosophies in the name of winning.

And then there’s the obvious. They entered the Pac-12 together, as travel partners and as the only two schools from the mountain west region.

As Utah treks to Boulder to face the Buffaloes on Saturday afternoon, the Utes do so without a natural rival in the conference.

But can Colorado become that rival? Can games against the Buffs become heated matchups in the same vein as BYU?

The answer is probably yes. Just not yet. Any good rivalry needs a bunch of history and a bit of bad blood. Utah-Colorado, at this point, doesn’t have much of either.

“I’d be lying if I said they are a true rival right now,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “I have a lot of respect for what Colorado does and how that play. They are a great team, and a team that is awfully difficult to beat when they are on their home floor. But I kind of look at every school in the league as a rival. Every game in this conference is tough. I don’t know that one stands out over any of the rest.”

Both school have natural rivals elsewhere: The Utes and the Cougars are one of the most heated rivalries in the country. Colorado and Colorado State aren’t far away in that conversation.

But looking closer, the potential is there. The Buffaloes have already tasted life in the top four of the Pac-12. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, they’ve pumped out two first-round NBA draft picks in three seasons, and Tad Boyle has turned the school in Boulder into a basketball-first outfit.

Utah has yet to experience that kind of success within the Pac-12, but the history and tradition of the Utes is rich, with the potential to grow to that level again in the near future. Krystkowiak’s team is competitive in the conference, a postseason candidate and made a splash this past November by reeling in one of the best recruiting classes in the league for next season.

“It can definitely be a rivalry,” Utah guard Brandon Taylor said of Colorado. “They are close to us, they have great crowds and they have a great team. We definitely have a lot of respect for them, and whenever we play them, it’s the only game of our week. So it’s a game we have to be up for.”

Both teams are desperate for a win. The Utes are 3-5 in league play and on a two-game losing streak, dropping close losses to Arizona State and Arizona last weekend on the road.

Colorado has been decimated by injury. Point guard Spencer Dinwiddie is gone for the season with a torn ACL. Treshaun Fletcher’s knee injury will keep him out for another month, at least.

“At this point, we have to worry about us,” Krystkowiak said. “Every team in the league has a story to tell, and their own trials and tribulations. We have to concentrate on coming out and playing good basketball.”

tjones@sltrib.com

Utah at Colorado

O At Coors Events Center, Boulder

Tipoff • Saturday, noon

TV • Pac-12 Network

Radio • 700 AM

Records • Utah 14-6, 3-5 Pac-12; Colorado 15-6, 4-4

Series history • Colorado leads 24-16

Last meeting • Colorado 60, Utah 50 (Feb. 21, 2013)