PROVO — Having grown up around the BYU-Utah basketball rivalry, Cougar sophomore guard TJ Haws is looking forward to Saturday’s matchup with the Utes at the Marriott Center.
“I’m super excited for it. I’ve been watching this since I was a little kid,” Haws said. “I’m really excited to be a part of it this time.”
This will be Haws’ first game against Utah because the Cougars and Utes didn’t play last season for the first time since 1944 after Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak requested a pause in the series.
Only two current BYU players, Luke Worthington and Zac Seljaas, have played against the Utes.
Though guard McKay Cannon, a Weber State transfer, is from Shelley, Idaho, he knows a lot about the rivalry.
“It is a big deal. I have a lot of BYU fans from home,” he said. “I grew up with that tradition as well. But I’ll learn more about the rivalry (this week).”
The Cougars and Utes tip off at 9 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
BYU coach Dave Rose is eager to host Utah for the first time since 2014, when the Cougars fell, 65-61. BYU has lost three consecutive games to the Utes. The Cougars’ last win over Utah came on Dec. 8, 2012, when BYU edged Utah, 61-58, in Provo.
“We’re looking forward to it. It will have a lot of unnecessary hype because of the things that have gone through,” Rose said. “It’s two teams that are improving and are getting ready for conference. It should be a really highly contested game.”
This showdown is a big one for BYU, not just in terms of the rivalry but in terms of trying to earn a quality non-conference win.
Rose is pleased with the way his team has performed to this stage of the season going into the Utah game.
“Just the fact that we’re through a tough part of our schedule when you consider travel and 10 games, six of them are out of our building,” Rose said. “We’ve been back and forth to the East Coast twice. We got to this point where we are, we’ll be ready for this game and I’m sure they’ll be ready for us.”
SO FAR, SO GOOD: The Cougars have won five straight games and are off to their first 8-2 start since 2011-12.
“I like what I’ve seen so far. We’re tough. We’re winning ugly games, which is honestly a good thing,” Cannon said. “When tournament time comes, that’s really important because things aren’t going to go perfectly. I like how we’ve been able to be resilient and pull wins together that way. Defensively, we have things we can improve on. It’s early in the season and there’s a lot we can work on.”
BYU had a tough time putting away Weber State in last Saturday’s 74-68 win at Vivint Arena.
“Playing for BYU, you know that you’re going to get everyone’s best shot,” said Cannon, who played for the Wildcats for two seasons before transferring.
Asf for Haws, he likes where his team sits 10 games into the campaign.
“I feel great about this team. Every day in practice we’re getting better,” he said. “It’s good for us to win games like this where you have to grind it out. Things aren’t always going your way. I’m really excited about where we’re headed.”
NIXON’S PROGNOSIS: Sophomore forward Dalton Nixon, who returned home from an LDS Church mission to Boston several months ago, suffered a foot injury last week and didn’t play against Weber State.
Nixon is averaging 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds.
Rose said after last Saturday’s game he didn’t know Nixon’s prognosis but indicated that it might be an issue the Cougars will be dealing with for a while.