For the billionth time — actually, just the 224th — Utah and Utah State played a basketball game against one another — this latest one suspended out there somewhere in a cloud of egos over the past seven years, finally being realized on Saturday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
It took the first Beehive Classic, a two-game event that halved and pushed together Utah’s four biggest programs, including BYU and Weber State in the nightcap, to get that seven-year itch scratched, to reactivate the longtime rivalry.
Whether it was worth the wait — USU coach Tim Duryea had called it an in-state “must-see” — depends on how much of a prisoner of the moment you want to be.
At the start, a 747 could have been parked in the stands and not blocked anybody’s view, and on the court, the Utes initially got up on the Aggies by a lopsided count. It was 11-2, it was 25-8, then … wait a minute, things changed. More people sat down, and it was 47-39, and 58-54. When the final seconds slid off the clock, the numbers rested at 77-67.
Not wholly comely or nerve-wrenchingly competitive, but … OK.
All of which mattered, or should matter, not one bit.
This Classic thing will take time to grow.
Utah should play Utah State every year, preferably here in an expanded tournament. There’s always room for this game, without advantage to one side or the other. No two-for-ones, no bullying, no gaps like the one just ended. Administrators, coaches, players and fans on both sides deserve it, even if a pompous few think nothing of it.
Duryea, though disappointed with the result, agreed: “This had a different feel. This is a great event. It’s obviously a great venue. I hope we can keep this going.”
It’s the right thing to do, especially with the downgraded state of college hoops around here. The low attendance had something to do with tickets not being a part of either school’s season-ticket package, as well as that general diminished interest in schoolboy ball.
Solve the issues, soothe the pride and prejudice, brush aside conference affiliations, build the tournament, give history and tradition a nod, play the freaking game.
So, they did on Saturday night.
And the encounter went the Utes’ way.
“It was a good win, an important win,” Larry Krystkowiak said. “This is quite a deal to have an in-state game like that. … You see a lot of solid effort.”
In the spirit of rivalry, many eyes at the Viv were on David Collette, Utah’s big man who used to play for Utah State. A messy divorce ensued, with USU refusing to grant the player a quick release when he announced he was transferring before the start of the 2015-16 season.
Before the game, Duryea’s Pinocchio nose blasted through a nearby window as he said the Collette affair happened so long ago, he could hardly remember it.
Collette, too, fibbed about this matchup being just another game, but his actions early on proved those accounts to be what they were — fiction.
“He was ready to get after it,” Krystkowiak said.
From jump, he attacked the interior of the USU defense. His teammates also stepped up. But through the second half, the Aggies properly fought back — “It was anybody’s game,” Duryea said — with DeAngelo Isby getting 24 points and Quinn Taylor 22.
A big part of the night was, indeed, the atmosphere. While there was no round-robin effect, no winners of Saturday’s games subsequently facing off, there was kind of a cool vibe. Playing on the Jazz’s home floor was a unique feel for players on both teams.
In the seats, there wasn’t the same one-sided intensity that might have erupted at the Huntsman Center or the Spectrum, but the back-and-forth was notable. For a first-swing at making this tournament stand out, Saturday night’s effort was noble, a beginning.
Just getting these two teams on the floor at the same time was accomplishment enough. With good fortune, clear thinking and absence of arrogance, that aforementioned tradition and history will go on being honored — because watching these rivals play is much more worthwhile than most early-season games.
And future matchups could block that erosion of college-basketball in this state. It’s a goal worth pursuing, and celebrating, no matter which team embraces victory and which loses. Even Duryea admitted, on this night, everybody won.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.