One might think that because BYU won the first rivalry matchup this season by a score of 104-79, there's little reason to think Utah will put up much resistance against the No. 8 team in the country on Saturday. However, that beating should actually lead to a fired up Ute squad, according to the Cougars.
"Obviously we beat them pretty bad at their place, and they're not gonna come out flat, that's for sure," said Stephen Rogers. "They'll come out and be ready to play, so it'll be a fun game."
Utah is a team that's been stung, Coach Rose said, and that is fighting for its identity. He noted that there are some dangerous players on the Ute roster.
"They have real talented individual players and they're having a hard time putting it all together. But you've got to guard against three, four, five of those guys – who have big nights – to have big nights on the same night. And so defensively, it's going to be a real battle for us to contain a great scorer in [Will] Clyburn, great dribble-penetrator in [Josh] Watkins, and J.J. O'Brien has become a great rebounder in his position."
In the matchup earlier this season, Clyburn scored 23, Watkins scored 19, and O'Brien scored 13 and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Of course, it was Jimmer Fredette that stole the show when he scored 47 points, two shy of his school record. As a preseason All-American, he was hardly an unknown at that time, but that performance helped catapult the senior star too more national attention than ever before.
"I just was feeling good and I was making shots," said Fredette of that game. "Some of them were real tough shots and there's not much some people could do about that, but I'm not expecting to have a game like last time. I know that they're gonna be reminded of it and they're gonna come out and want to play as best they can. It's a rivalry game, so you know it's gonna be a huge deal for both teams."
The rivalry is a huge deal, but with Utah's struggles in recent years (only one NCAA Tournament appearance in the previous five seasons), it certainly doesn't seem as heated or competitive as it has in the past. BYU has won eight of the last nine rivalry hoops games.
Still, the Cougars said they don't think the rivalry has died down.
"I don't know what it was like back then [about 30 years ago], but I can't imagine it being any [more] than what it is now," said Rose, adding that there's always a lot of emotion and intense preparation that goes into rivalry games.
"When you come into the arena on that day for this game, it's not the same."
Fredette echoed Rose's sentiments.
"The fans are still avid about it and they talk about it all the time. Utah this year for basketball, they just had a lot of new players that didn't know a whole lot about the rivalry, as where we've had guys that have played in it for a long time. But that game's over with, so they know what it's all about it now, and they know how big it is and they're always reminded about it, as well as we are. Just wherever we go, we hear about it."
Among his favorite rivalry games that he's played in are the aforementioned 47-point outing he had at the Huntsman Center earlier this year, as well BYU's home game against Utah his sophomore year. Utah had a good team that year and came into the Marriott Center in first place in the conference standings. Fredette's 25 points helped the Cougars win 63-50 in front of a fired up home crowd, and BYU went on to share the conference title with Utah and New Mexico. He said it was an ‘unbelievably fun game.'
As for what course the rivalry will take next year when the two teams are no longer in the same conference, Rose said the rivalry – and the feel of the rivalry – will definitely change.
"It will change, because we only play once a year. The game, to me, will become an even bigger game. Since I've been here, you've always got the second game when you play the first one, and then you try to work through it. This will be a one-shot deal [from now on], and then you live with that for the year."