SALT LAKE CITY — Earlier in the week, coach Jim Boylen and the Utes didn't want to talk about BYU.
But after Wednesday night's game in Laramie, Wyo., a bus trip across I-80, a short sleep, classes for the players, and a Thursday afternoon practice and film session, the Utes had BYU on their minds.
When you say BYU, the player who first comes to mind is the Cougars' exceptional guard, Jimmer Fredette, the conference preseason player of the year who is living up to his billing this year.
The two Ute players most likely to guard him Saturday night in Provo know what they're up against.
"You've got to make things tough for him," said Jace Tavita, who is likely to be the first to guard Fredette. "He's a very good scorer and playmaker. You can't be surprised by anything he does. He has a lot more freedom than a lot of guys we play against. He can shoot anytime he gets the ball and plays free."
Ute junior Carlon Brown has already played several games against Fredette and seems to have a good handle on what he needs to do defensively. The problem is doing it.
"You have to try and play in front of him and have a hand up on his pull-up threes, make sure to find him in transition so he doesn't get easy baskets, stay down on his pump fakes and try not to fall for his crossovers," Brown said.
Boylen knows how good Fredette is, but he's worried about the whole BYU team.
"They have a lot of ball skills and speed," he said. "As I said last year, (Jackson) Emery is one of the most underrated guys in the league, maybe in the country, for what he does for that team. (Jonathan) Tavernari been a willing participant off the bench, and has embraced it and helped everyone accept their roles."
Boylen's biggest worry is BYU's transition game and not letting the Cougars hurt the Utes with their spurts. "They're as good of an offensive spurt team as there is," he said.
THE RIGHT PLACE: Ute center David Foster has disputed reports from Provo that BYU really didn't recruit him, saying that the Cougars were one of the first teams to recruit him and that Utah was one of the last.
"I knew this was the place for me and I knew I would have to compete against them," said Foster, who serves as president of the LDS Athletic Association at the U.'s Institute of Religion.
Foster says he hasn't received much grief from LDS members about his decision to attend Utah instead of BYU and that he still has relationships with members of the BYU coaching staff. He said although a lot of folks expected him to go to BYU, he just preferred Utah.
"There are plenty of schools out there, and I felt like this was the right fit for me," he said.
BAD STARTS: Several times this season, Boylen has said something along the lines of what he said after Wednesday night's loss to Wyoming: "I'm proud of the way we battled back."
But as happy as Boylen is that his team never quits and finds a way to get back into nearly every game, he's getting tired of the Utes falling into a hole to begin with.
"I'm very concerned about our starts," he said. "All year long it has concerned me. We get down to Seattle, we get down to Idaho … I didn't like our start against Air Force, against San Diego State. We have missed opportunities early in games, missed assignments early in games, and turnovers early in games."
The Utes overcame a 16-point deficit to beat Illinois and a 12-point deficit to beat LSU, but other times, like Wednesday in Wyoming, the Utes came back but couldn't finish the game off.
"I'm very thankful that my team fights," Boylen said. "We do fight back. My kids care and they try. But you cannot spot people points and expect to make that run. It's great that we do, but it wears us out and it's difficult."
UTE NOTES: The Utes held the Cowboys to 22.2 percent shooting from 3-point range, which was their MWC opponents' average in coming into the game. ... The Utes were whistled for a season-high 29 fouls Wednesday and both Foster and Kim Tillie fouled out, the latter in just eight minutes. … The Utes' lead in the long series with BYU has shrunk in recent years, and the Utes now hold just a 125-123 advantage. … After Saturday's game, the Utes finish up the first half of the MWC season with a home game against Colorado State Wednesday. Then they get Saturday off before starting up the second half of the MWC season at TCU the following week.