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As college basketball remains unpredictable, the Utah-BYU matchup never wavered

The two teams will meet for the 261st time on Saturday at the Marriott Center

(Michael Mangum | Special to The Tribune) Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) drives past Brigham Young Cougars forward Yoeli Childs (23) during their game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.

On Feb. 12 and 13, respectively, University of Utah athletic director Mark Harlan and BYU deputy AD Brian Santiago signed their names to a contract, renewing the long-standing men’s basketball rivalry between the schools for four more years through 2023.

College basketball, not to mention the world, came to a screeching halt a month later thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the sport picked itself up over the summer and into the fall, made plans to start, albeit two weeks later than intended, scheduling has become an interesting subplot.

With the virus still highly-prevalent and programs constantly pausing, games have been postponed, canceled, and even picked up literally on a whim. As that takes place every day, it is important to note that the date of Saturday’s Utah-BYU game at the Marriott Center in Provo (4 p.m., BYUtv) never changed.

The Utes and Cougars, forever rivals in the WAC, then the Mountain West, now with the former in the Pac-12 and the latter in the WCC, will renew acquaintances late Saturday afternoon for the 261st time. After last season’s 102-95 Utah win in overtime at the Huntsman Center, BYU leads the all-time series, 131-129.

“Unless something crazy happens with some testing numbers, it becomes realistic to pull it off,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak told reporters this week. “You get into airplanes and different states, maybe you have to think about some backup plans, but this one has been there from the get-go. We had really no dialogue as far as not playing the game.”

As with most everything right now, the atmosphere on Saturday will prove weird. The Marriott Center seats almost 19,000 people, but there will not be a full crowd, not even close in fact. Each player and staff member is allowed four tickets for ‘friends and family,’ which will comprise the entire crowd.

That will be a far cry from last season’s game at the Huntsman Center, where 11,565 fans watched the Cougars jump out to a 16-point first half lead, only to have the Utes come all the way back.

Then-freshman point guard Rylan Jones, a Holladay native, whose father, Chris, played for Utah, coached at Utah State, and is now on Krystkowiak’s staff, hit the big shots in overtime to help deliver the win.

“Last year was a dream for me,” Jones said Tuesday evening after scoring 12 points to go along with five assists and five steals in a 75-59 win over Idaho State. “I dreamt about that game my whole life and what happened was crazy and surreal, but that was last year. This year, we’re going to their place, no fans, but it’s still Utah-BYU, it’s still that rivalry, and we just have to come in ready to play.”

Utah has looked capable in early-season wins over the Bengals and the University of Washington, showing off an improved core and more depth, but also deficiencies. Specifically, the Utes were outrebounded by Idaho State to the tune of plus-17.

The Cougars (5-2) are coming off a 74-70 home loss to Mountain West contender Boise State, and has a neutral-court loss to another quality opponent USC.

“When I first came here, I knew it was a serious thing, but my freshman year, we got punched in the mouth and I realized then how personally and seriously BYU took it,” Utes junior wing Timmy Allen said. “Even last year, they amped it up a notch. They came out screaming, all the rah-rah stuff and that really got me into it. I’ve become more in touch with this game and we understand how important it is to the program.”

UTAH vs. BYU

At Marriott Center, Provo

Tip-off » 4 p.m.

TV » BYUtv (Dave McCann, play-by-play; Blaine Fowler, analyst; Spencer Linton, analyst)

Radio » ESPN700 AM

Records » Utah 2-0; BYU 5-2

Series » BYU leads, 131-129

About Utah » The Utes are coming off a 75-59 win over Idaho State on Tuesday to move to 2-0 on the season. Freshman combo guard Pelle Larsson led six Utes in double-figures with 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting … Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak is 5-4 in nine games vs. BYU, but has won four of the last six … Junior wing Timmy Allen is 83 points shy of becoming the 40th player in Utah history to register 1,000 career points. Assuming Allen gets to 1,000 this season, he would be the 21st junior to do so … Through two games, opponents are shooting just 21.9% from 3-point range against Utah.

About BYU » Arizona transfer Alex Baracello leads the Cougars in scoring at 19.6 points per game after scoring a game-high 22 points in a 74-70 home loss to Boise State earlier this week … The only other Cougar averaging double figures in scoring is 7-foot-3 Purdue transfer Matt Haarms (10.2 PPG) after scoring 18 on 7-for-10 shooting against the Broncos … Six different Cougars have registered at least 10 assists through seven games.

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