Matt Gade, Deseret News
Down on one end of the court, Dave Rose stood with his arms folded, much of the game, looking concerned but not agitated. On the other side of midcourt, Larry Krystkowiak calmly sipped from a bottle of water.
Afterward they warmly shook hands and even patted one another on the shoulder.
Both coaches were on good behavior Saturday at the Huntsman Center.
At least good as it ever is in the BYU-Utah game.
Maybe that’s because the coaches were figuring it was important which team won, but not a life-changer.
Rick Majerus might have disagreed.
But with the current coaches, both have faced bigger stuff.
“If we lose that game, it doesn’t mean the earth stops rotating,” said Krystkowiak, after Utah’s 81-64 win.
For fans of both BYU and Utah, it might have been different. There, people get involved that have no stake in the outcome and sometimes it gets crazy and personal. At the end, Ute fans chanted “Just like football!”
As for the players, things got most heated when BYU’s Eric Mika was whistled for a flagrant foul and ejected.
But the coaches took it all in stride.
They were considering it an important game, but still just a game. For the Utes, it was a comfortable one: a cushy 22-point lead with three minutes remaining. The Utes could do no wrong. Their passing was crisp, their defense well managed.
It ended in the most convincing win for the Utes in half a decade.
It’s sometimes been a bumpy rivalry. Both schools have long histories of fine basketball — in the top 15 of the all-time winning percentage list. You don’t get that overnight. So it’s no surprise that sometimes winning got in the way of the real stuff.
Majerus cared about winning more than living, it seemed at times. He died exactly a year ago Saturday, of heart failure, a decade after his last game as Utah’s coach. At least some of that had to be due to the unreal hours and high stress he espoused.
Roger Reid coached every game at BYU like it was his last. Dec. 17, 1996, actually was. The university fired him in the middle of the season.
Great coaches in great games.
But it took Rose’s cancer in 2009 and a slight recurrence this year to bring all this into perspective.
As he has said many times, the games are an important thing, not the important thing.
That’s something Krystkowiak never needed explained. His mother died of Hodgkins disease when he was 8. He spent part of his teen years living with an older brother, due to problems with his stepmother and father. His sister-in-law died of leukemia in the 1980s.
So don’t expect them to act like basketball is life or death.
Even though Saturday’s game was a December event, it came with an unusual amount of interest. That’s because until now, predicting the winner of Utah-BYU has been as routine as taking out the trash.
Actually, that pretty much describes what the Cougars had been doing with the Utes for more than half a decade. They beat Utah 11 of 12 times after Andrew Bogut had left and the defections had begun in earnest at Utah.
But last season produced the first stirrings at Utah in several years. The game went down to the final seconds before BYU escaped with a 61-58 win.
Going into Saturday’s game, it was hard to tell exactly what would transpire. Clearly BYU was the favorite. With an 8-3 record and an up-tempo attack, there was always the chance it would turn the game into a rout, as it has so many times in the past few years.
How was anyone supposed to know anything substantive about the Utes? They played close with a good Boise State team — picked to finish second in the Mountain West — and they beat Fresno State, the MWC’s No. 8 pick.
Everyone else belonged on the bargain shelf.
Still, it was hard not to notice coach Krystokwiak is improving his team. The days of finding players through open tryouts are over. Jordan Loveridge scored 15 points in the first eight minutes on Saturday. The addition of NBA prospect Delon Wright has made Utah a team some believe can be a mid-level program in the Pac-12.
But that was all speculation going into Saturday’s game. The numbers don’t lie. BYU had been to the NCAA Tournament six consecutive seasons prior to last year's NIT run. Yet the game held considerable promise for the Utes, too. An impressive crowd of nearly 14,000 showed. For many Utah fans, their last memory of a Ute-Cougar game at the Huntsman Center involved Jimmer Fredette nailing a half-court shot.
This time Wright hit the halftime buzzer beater — at shorter distance.
So it was on Saturday that the annual game was a big deal, but only moderately so, because they both knew long ago about life’s important things. Neither lost his head and got a technical or pounded the scorer’s table. Nobody followed the refs up the tunnel.
For them, the big thing was that they were able to live another day. Winning the game?
That’s just a nice way to end a week.
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