PROVO — Is the BYU-Utah game, with all its instate fire come Wednesday, kind of an anti-climactic exercise, something to do while waiting for the conference tournament in Las Vegas? The Utes are fighting to stay above .500 and the Cougars lost a chance at a fourth straight MWC title by losing to New Mexico in the Marriott Center last Saturday.
Some could view this week as the twilight zone, something to kill time over while waiting for next week, where an NCAA automatic bid is on the line for the Utes and an NCAA tournament high seed for the Cougars.
Of course, this rivalry game is never relegated to average. It's always got plenty of juice.
BYU senior Chris Miles used a football analogy to describe what should happen at the tip in the Huntsman Center come Wednesday. The game is not devalued.
"A good story representing what we're facing and what Utah's feeling going into this game is similar to what happened to our football teams this fall," said Miles.
"Normally, both our football teams are trying to win a conference title when it comes to that game. But TCU had the inside track when they beat BYU and Utah. Now New Mexico came into Provo and took chances for a title way. But I don't think that will distract from our game with Utah, just like it didn't take anything away from that game for both teams in football."
While the Utes are fresh off a spanking of Wyoming, BYU players tried to reload emotionally Monday with Jimmer Fredette sidelined following a weekend bout with a stomach ailment.
The Cougars have not lost back-to-back games this season. Utah could deliver that sting with a victory.
"This is a really important game for us, "said Miles. "It's one we really want to win. It's been a staple of Dave Rose since he took over the program to not lose back-to-back games. So, it's really important to us when we take a loss to get up for the next game."
Miles said the way every BYU player handled the Lobo loss is different. "But I had an immediate resolve to look forward and make more of this season. There is a lot of important basketball still to be played."
Dave Rose and Jim Boylen know this is cross the swords time.
For Boylen, his squad has proven to be extremely salty. The Utes took New Mexico into overtime in Salt Lake City — something BYU couldn't do twice. His squad beat UNLV in Las Vegas, something Dave Rose has never done. The latest setback at the Thomas & Mack Center was a convincing 88-74 whipping at the hands of the Rebels.
The scrappiness of Boylen's squad was in full bloom in Provo when the Utes came screaming back from an 18-point deficit despite the disparity in the two team's records at the time.
For Rose, well, he's in his fifth year (123-38) and like Boylen (56-39), this is his first major college coaching gig. But if Rose quit coaching today and Boylen won his next 67 games in a row, Boylen would still be one game behind Rose's career record as the Cougar coach.
Today Utah stands 14-14 overall and 7-7 in league play. BYU's 26-4 mark is the best in school history.
But on Wednesday records will mean very little.
"We're still a program trying to play well down the stretch and get in the NCAA tournament," said Rose assistant Dave Rice. "We're a team some feel good about putting in the Top 15 in the polls, but this is a rivalry game against a good team that is well-coached and we will be ready to play."
Rose's other longtime friend and assistant John Wardenburg agreed.
"We still have a ton to play for, a good seeding and going up against a team that is playing its best basketball of the year is more than enough incentive to get our guys ready to play."
Monday is usually a tough practice day for the Cougars, but both assistants said this one, even without Fredette on the court, was solid. There was no big emotional hangover from Saturday's big loss to the Lobos.
For Utah, this is the perfect game to set a snare for BYU.
Expect nothing less than a war on game day.
The ghosts of years past absolutely tell us so.
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