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UTES NEEDED A TOW TRUCK FRIDAY NIGHT, NOT A GAME

In what won't go down as the most artistic University of Utah-BYU basketball game played in the history of the rivalry, BYU took full advantage Friday night of a Utah team wondering what was next, the Bataan Death March? The Cougars won the semifinal WAC tournament pairing over the Utes, 75-62, primarily because Utah needed a tow truck and couldn't find one anywhere on the bench. The Utes started the game on empty and went from there. As far as they're concerned, Fort Collins is a survival camp. They're wondering why they didn't get a biscuit.

BYU might have gone into tonight's championship game against UTEP anyway. The Cougars had already beaten the Utes twice during the regular season when both were, if not necessarily at full strength, at least equal in the rest department.But this time the Cougars had help. They got to play one game Friday. Utah got to play two.

This is how the Utes spent their Friday in Fort Collins:

- They got a wake-up call at 7 a.m., an hour largely unheard of by a college basketball team staying on the road.

- They ate breakfast shortly thereafter.

- They got to Moby Arena a little after 8:30 a.m. and got taped, dressed, warmed up, psyched up, etc., for their 10 a.m. game against the University of Hawaii.

- In a physical, if not otherwise memorable, game the Utes won 81-69.

All this was necessitated, of course, because of the incident the night before when Hawaii coach Riley Wallace collapsed less than two minutes into the Utah-Hawaii game and the contest was suspended as an ambulance took Wallace to the hospital.

- After the Hawaii game the Utes went back to their hotel, arriving just before one. The rest of the day they laid around, tried to rest, pretended to study, and started getting taped, psyched, etc., for their next game - against BYU . . . at 9 p.m.

In the meantime, in the same hotel, BYU was lounging around, getting fat. The players were spending their meal money, cruising the mall next door, and thanking the basketball fates that they weren't in the Utes' shoes.

Not that everyone associated with BYU was overconfident. BYU coach Roger Reid, whose appointed calling in life is to drive his team like a trail boss and to worry unceasingly, actually saw the situation as a potential advantage for the Utes.

"The team that wins that Hawaii-Utah game, they'll have all the momentum," said Reid. "They'll be just like a baseball team that's just won a game. They'll be ready. They'll say, 'let's play two."

Also, there was the sentiment that it's difficult to beat anybody three times, especially if you're talking about Utah and BYU. Last year, for instance, Utah won both regular season games and then, in the conference tournament, BYU won in overtime.

"Beating them three times," mused BYU center Gary Trost. "It won't be easy, no matter what the circumstances."

But compounding Utah's problem, beyond the usual injuries, was its playing style, which is a cross between a pit bull and a customs agent working the Colombia border. Under Rick Majerus, the Utes never met a game they didn't want to turn into a train wreck. All season, their idea of beauty was to shoot 42 percent and still beat the other team by about 10 percent.

That's what they'd done in the Hawaii game, making the Rainbows, even if they were trying to win one for their coach, look like brick masons with a 37.3 percent effort from the field.

But even while taking a 41-39 lead in the first half against BYU, the Utes allowed the Cougars to shoot 50 percent. The handwriting was on the noose. In the second half BYU shot 70.6 percent from the field, hitting 12 of 17 shots. Utah, in the meantime, was making seven of 23 shots for 30.4 percent.

By the end, Utah backup center Antoine Davison personified the frustration when he threw a left jab to the jaw of BYU's Jared Miller. Fortunately, nothing developed beyond that. The Utes were too tired, and the Cougars were winning.

The Utes were moving so slow in the second half that BYU fouled them only five times, and three of those were in the final minutes.

In fairness, they shouldn't have played the game until both teams were on the same clock. If nothing else, the rivalry deserved better.