Utah basketball: Utes ready to make BYU rivalry competitive again
BYU rolls into the Huntsman Center on Saturday before what is expected to be a packed house and what will be one of the few true tests in Utah's nonconference basketball schedule.
However, the Cougars' visit highlights some sobering details for the Utes and their fans:
• Utah has lost seven consecutive games in the series.
• The program has one win against the Cougars since 2006.
• In 2011, Jimmer Fredette scored 47 points and smiled about it with every trip down the court.
• And who can forget that during that game, Utes fans were so apathetic toward their team that the Huntsman Center crowd was 70 percent blue?
In fact, BYU has been so dominant for so long that some may wonder whether the game still matters and whether it is still a rivalry.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak is not among them.
"I don't know how you can say it's not a rivalry," Krystkowiak said. "They've had our number recently, but we will scratch and claw and try to get a win every time out. I'm more in the present tense. We got drubbed here two years ago, and it went down to the wire last year in Provo. We can prepare and we can control what we control and go from there."
Then there's this: For the first time in years, the Utes will tip off against the Cougars with comparable talent.
A group of sophomores led by Jordan Loveridge took its lumps as freshmen and is better for the experience. And the Utes, with a dynamic point guard in Delon Wright, have their best chance for a win since the 2009 team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Loveridge and Wright have been cornerstone players through nine games, both capable of taking over at times. Loveridge, a 6-foot-7 forward, averages 17 points and 10 rebounds per game and is one of the better combination forwards in the Pac-12.
Wright, a junior college transfer, is averaging 16 points, six rebounds and six assists a game. He's third in the nation in field goal percentage, hitting more than 72 percent of his shots. And he's fifth in the country in steals with 3.1 per game.
Utah finally has the kind of players that can match the star power of the Cougars. The dominant headliners won't just be names like Fredette, Haws, Carlino and Cummard.
Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino are a talented backcourt tandem, with Haws averaging 23.2 points to rank seventh in the country. And Eric Mika has been dominant in the paint as a freshman. But there also will be elite talent wearing red in Saturday night's rivalry game.
"It's a big game, and our guys are excited about going [up] and playing the game," Cougars coach Dave Rose said. "Utah's a lot more balanced than they've been in the past. They are consistently scoring the ball really well. I think Wright's really given them a lift, and [Brandon] Taylor and Loveridge are two guys that are just way better after their freshman years. They learned so much, and now they are sophomores and they are playing with so much more confidence. It's a well-coached team, and we are going to have to play well."
Krystkowiak has approached the week like a coach who hasn't beaten his rival during his tenure.
Krystkowiak spoke before Wednesday's practice about BYU with wide eyes and the intensity that helped make him a bruising NBA power forward. His answers were rigid, quick and to the point. He seemed like a guy intent on defeating the team that has beaten his program in 11 of the last 12 meetings.
The week has been eventful for both sides. It began with Rose announcing on his coaching show that the future of the rivalry could be in jeopardy because of scheduling issues. When asked, Krystkowiak said he didn't know why Rose would make such a statement.
Since then, Utah athletic director Chris Hill and BYU counterpart Tom Holmoe have been in contact, and it looks like a new home-and-home will get done over the coming months. But just the thought that the Cougars might not play the Utes after next year fueled the social media hothouse.
If anything, though, the week underscores that the game still means a lot to both sides. Even with BYU's decade-long dominance, a game that's been played every year since 1909 still gets the blood flowing on both sides.
"Of course it's a rivalry and it means a lot," Taylor said. "There's so much history between the two programs. Everyone knows it's a big game. We're not overthinking it. We have to keep the same mindset. We have to create the game plan and execute it. It is a great opportunity to go out there and compete against a great team."
Reporter Jay Drew contributed to this story
The key players
• Eric Mika, Fr., C
• Tyler Haws, Jr., G
• Kyle Collinsworth, So., F
• Matt Carlino, Jr., PG
• Jordan Loveridge, So., F
• Delon Wright, Jr., G
• Brandon Taylor, So., G
• Renan Lenz, Sr., C
Note • Haws averages 23.2 points per game and Loveridge averages 17.9 points per game.
BYU at Utah
O At the Huntsman Center
When • Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
Radio • 700 AM, 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • Utah 8-1, BYU 8-3
Series history • BYU leads 129-125
Last meeting • BYU 61, Utah 58 (Dec. 8, 2012)
About the Cougars • They assisted on 27 of its 35 baskets in a win over Prairie View A&M on Wednesday night. ... The Cougars have lost to three nationally ranked teams this season. ... Tyler Haws is seventh nationally with 23.2 points per game. ... BYU shot a season-low 31 percent from the field in last year's win over Utah.
About the Utes • They have won 10 consecutive games at the Huntsman Center. ... Utah has lost five of the last six at home against BYU. ... Utah leads the nation in 2-point field goal percentage. ... Sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge averages 17 points and 10 rebounds per game.
BYU 61, Utah 58
BYU 61, Utah 42
BYU 104, Utah 79
BYU 72, 59
BYU 82, Utah 69
BYU 71, Utah 51
BYU 63, Utah 50
*Mountain West Conference games