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BYU takes the drama out of rivalry game

PROVO — There wasn’t a ton of drama to BYU’s 77-65 win over Utah, Saturday at the Marriott Center. The Cougars led virtually the whole way, double digits most of the second half.

That was good news for both schools, in one way.

The drama was limited to basketball stuff.

There was some angst when BYU star Yoeli Childs left the court limping. But he came back several minutes later. All that previous business about fighting and canceling games, though, didn’t really enter the picture. Jahshire Hardnett nailed the win down with an and-one with 3:17 to go, putting the Cougars up by 13.

So maybe the two schools can get back to basketball. That would be a relief to both coaches. Each seemed tired this week of talking about the 2015 “sucker punch” game.

As for continuing the rivalry on an annual basis, the outcome is to be continued.

This time, BYU played smarter, started faster and stayed cooler.

The pregame business was fairly subdued. But the Marriott Center crowd awoke when Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak was introduced. Lots of boos, though nothing dangerous.

Turns out he can appear in Provo without fear.

Krystkowiak and BYU coach Dave Rose took a bit of the apprehension down by cordially greeting one another near midcourt just before tipoff, pausing to talk and smile a moment. Both teams made their first shots. Then nobody could make one. Between them they hit one of their next 11 attempts.

Then BYU got going and held the Utes from ever getting control.

Considering the teams, it was relatively civil, intensely played and vigorously cheered. A number of fans in the BYU student section gave it a lighter touch by showing up wearing fluorescent safety vests, to tweak Krystkowiak about his “safety first” mantra.

Krystkowiak canceled last year’s game, saying that a punch delivered by BYU’s Nick Emery in 2015 made it dangerous for the players.

But nobody took a swing and no one called off the game.

During a timeout, the video board featured babies in the audience.

To BYU’s credit, nobody put Krystkowiak on the screen — even if they wanted to.

Meanwhile, nothing terribly vicious was chanted.

BYU reeled off 10 unanswered points to take the first sizable lead, spreading around the shots and nailing them. Utah closed the deficit to five, but an 8-0 BYU run put the Cougars up 35-22 with 3:36 left in the first half.

Elijah Bryant and Childs combined for 25 of BYU’s 37 first-half points.

BYU showed none of the anxiousness that could have accompanied a game the Cougars had waited two years to play. That’s good coaching.

Utah cut the BYU lead to five a few times, but that’s where the Cougars won the game. They didn’t flinch. The two big runs were enough to hold off the Utes.

One thing you can’t coach is injuries. Childs went down with 15:20 to go, limping off on a bad left leg. He returned 4½ minutes later, and limped through until the final seconds. Teammate Bryant took it the rest of the way, scoring 29 points.

Saturday didn’t look beforehand to be Krystkowiak’s favorite day. For a coach who has unapologetically advocated scaling back the rivalry, playing in the Marriott Center is no picnic.

Emery left the team a few weeks ago due to personal issues.

Krystkowiak doesn’t like the rivalry as constituted. Social media did its part, this week, with fans on both sides trash talking their hearts out.

“I’ve told our players if it were up to me, they wouldn’t do a whole lot of social media,” Krystkowiak said on Thursday. “Now you go into the locker room after the game, they’re on the phone, all getting instant (feedback). Back in my day, when you played a college game, and if you played well, maybe you’d get your name in the paper.

"You were kind of crossing your fingers that you’d make it in the Missoulian the next morning. But now you can have positive, negative stuff, and I told the players that one thing they need to be paying attention to is their core group and their basketball circle, their families — but beyond that, it’s a lot of external stuff. If I were going to get real excited about how high it gets at one point, you better be ready to have somebody just step on your throat.”

Turned out the Cougars did that without help.