‘Serious, intense and personal’: Even non-Utahns on Utes’ basketball roster get dialed in for rivalry game with BYU
Having edged the Cougars 102-95 last year in overtime, Utes will try to make it two straight Saturday in Provo, where only players’ family members will be in attendance at the Marriott Center due to COVID-19 restrictions
Although it didn’t start out well at all for the home team, last year’s BYU-Utah rivalry basketball game turned out to be a dream come true for Utes guard Rylan Jones.
The Olympus High product whose father, Chris, played for the Utes and coached at Utah State before joining Larry Krystkowiak’s staff a few years ago, made a ton of big shots in overtime to help the Utes pull out a 102-95 win to snap BYU’s two-game winning streak in the series.
“I dreamt about that game my whole life and what happened was crazy and surreal,” Rylan Jones said Tuesday after his 12 points, five assists and five steals keyed a 75-59 win over Idaho State. “But that was last year. This year we are just going into their place — no fans. But I don’t think it changes anything. It is still Utah-BYU. It is still that rivalry. And we just got to come in ready to play.”
That game, in which the Cougars jumped out to a couple 16-point leads but faltered down the stretch when star forward Yoeli Childs left the game with muscle cramps, seems like a long time ago after the COVID-19 pandemic eventually cut short postseason play. But memories have been rekindled.
“I dreamt about that game my whole life and what happened was crazy and surreal. But that was last year. This year we are just going into their place — no fans. But I don’t think it changes anything. It is still Utah-BYU. It is still that rivalry. And we just got to come in ready to play.” — Utah sophomore guard Rylan Jones
The rivalry will be renewed Saturday when 5-2 BYU hosts 2-0 Utah at the Marriott Center (4 p.m., BYUtv) hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 74-70 loss to Boise State Wednesday. Of the 261 times BYU and Utah have met, this one promises to be among the strangest, due to the pandemic.
Players and coaching staff members of each team are allowed four tickets apiece for friends and family members, so there will be no home-crowd advantage to speak of.
“Our new guys like Pelle (Larsson) won’t experience the fans and everything, but that intensity in that game is different, and he is going to get used to it, and I am glad we have him on our side this year,” Jones said after the freshman from Sweden led the Utes with 14 points against ISU.
Utah had to cancel some games and move around some others due to the pandemic, but the BYU game that was agreed to last February when the rivals hammered out a four-game contract through 2023 hasn’t been in jeopardy, Krystkowiak said Thursday.
“This one has been penciled in from the get-go and we have really had no dialogue whatsoever as far as not playing the game,” Krystkowiak. The Utes haven’t won in Provo since 2014, a 65-61 victory when Delon Wright scored 18 points.
The coach said he hasn’t had to talk much about the importance of the game to Utah’s program because Jones, Timmy Allen and others have done it for him.
“I think they understand it,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got three new guys, and they are great guys and understand a rivalry and a big game, an instate game, and also as much as anything just us trying to become a great basketball team. … I don’t think I need to make too much out of it. We’ve got a mature group that understands the complexities of it and what it is going to take.”
Allen was part of the Utah team two years ago that was blown out 74-59 by BYU at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, the Arizona native’s first taste of the rivalry game. He learned “just how serious and intense and personal” it is, especially for players on both teams who grew up in Utah.
“When I first came my freshman year I knew it was a serious thing, but my freshman year we came out and got punched in the mouth. .... BYU took it to us,” he said. “And even last year, they amped it up a notch. They came out and were screaming, and all the rah-rah stuff, and it really got me into it.
“So over the years I have become more and more dialed in to this game. We understand the importance it is to the program, and we are going to treat it like any other game, but the intensity will for sure be there. So it should be fun.”
Allen said last year’s game at the Huntsman Center was one of the top three games of his college career to date, as far as energy and excitement level was concerned, rivaling Utah’s win over Kentucky last year in Las Vegas and a win over UCLA his freshman year at home.
“You never know how serious it is until you are in it,” he said. “Just the intensity these … Salt Lake and Utah kids play with against each other, and how personal they take it. Because a lot of them grew up next to each other so they want to win for their program and their history.”