The 183rd game of the BYU-Utah State rivalry came off with the typical theatrics, Tuesday night at the Marriott Center. By the time it had drawn to a close, Aggie Coach Kohn Smith had gone off into the December night characterizing the officiating as "ridiculous." BYU's Marty Haws had put his finger in Aggie Matt Barnes' face and told him to learn some manners, fella. And, of course, there was the standard skin-of-the-teeth score: Cougars 69, Aggies 68.
Put a wrap on another season of Utah State-BYU, the rivalry that remains as emotional as a Streep movie.Through the years this game has come to mean nothing, if not gut-wrenchingly close games. In 70 seasons, the teams have played so closely that BYU - which leads the series 98-85 - has scored an average of just three more points than the Aggies. Talent, records and time seem to have little effect on the master plan, which is to make the games excruciatingly close.
"There's just a lot of intensity about an instate game and a lot of interest within the state," says BYU guard Haws. "It's always exciting."
Haws had as much to do with Tuesday's excitement as anyone. In the early minutes he found himself being dogged everywhere by USU guard Barnes, who had been given the dubious charge of stopping the Cougars' leading scorer. And for most of the first half, he did. By the time the game was 13 minutes old, Haws had only two points.
Meanwhile, the Aggies were putting together a whopping 24-6 lead. Cougar fans, who had grown accustomed in recent weeks to BYU winning, sat stunned and confused as Utah State sank its first 10 shots of the game. What happened to the Cougars who beat ASU on the road? Who demolished Alabama-Birmingham?
Early in the game, the expected spats arose, although they were quickly short-circuited. After taking a running jump shot, Haws pointed his finger in Barnes' face and the two had words. "I felt he was moving under me when I shot," said Haws. "I wanted to nip that in the bud before things got going."
While there was no more friction between opposing guards, Haws continued to struggle. He got few shots and later threw away two straight passes.
Finding his team fading like a bad paint job, BYU Coach Roger Reid set the Cougars up in a trapping full-court press and instructed his team to isolate Haws on offense.
The plan worked dramatically. Haws scored 13 points in the final seven minutes of the half, to pull the Cougars to a 41-30 deficit. "Haws took over the game," said Smith.
While it took Haws about 13 minutes to get going, Cougar forward Andy Toolson was ineffective for even longer. He had just two points and one rebound at the break. By game's end his numbers had beefed up to 20 points and seven rebounds. "It's hard to keep those two under wraps," said Smith. "With Haws, it wasn't BYU's set offense that got us. It was him, individually. And Toolson had a great second half."
By the early second half, the cement had been set. BYU was coming on like a mudslide and the Aggies were trying to hold it back. "I knew they (USU) had had their run," said BYU Coach Roger Reid. "In basketball, games go in spurts and they had done their run and we hadn't played yet. I knew we were going to have a chance to make a run. That's the way the basketball game's played."
Once the Cougars cut the Aggie lead to 44-40, it was a game of intrigue. Toolson's inside basket tied the score for the first time at 50-50, and soon the Cougars had built up a 64-57 cushion.
However, the turning point may have come much sooner. With 15:55 remaining and USU ahead 44-36, the Cougars put together a fast break that was supposed to end in a Kevin Santiago layup. But Aggie forward Rich Jardine crashed into Santiago on the play, drawing an intentional foul from the all-WAC officiating crew of Moose Stubing, Ed Ristau and Steve Usechek.
While Santiago sank two free throws, Smith ran to the end of the bench, holding his arms out in disbelief. Smith contended Jardine was going out to draw a charging foul; Santiago said afterwards that he thought Jardine wrapped his arms around him on the play.
"Ridiculous. That's the worst call I've seen in a long time," moaned Smith.
He continued, "That's the last time we can play BYU with WAC officials. Even if they make good calls, it certainly doesn't put you in the light where you go into the game with a good frame of mind. I thought there were a lot of calls that were questionable."
After the Cougars took a seven-point lead, they soon were fighting off a USU run. The Aggies scored six unanswered points to close the BYU lead to 67-66 with :32 seconds remaining. But Haws was fouled two seconds later and sank both to give the Cougars a three-point lead. With two seconds left in the game, Cougar forward Toolson, going for the rebound, tipped in an Aggie basket - which was credited to Jardine.
An in-bounds pass to Haws took care of the remaining time on the clock.
BYU's record moved to 8-1 while USU fell to 3-4.