Utah basketball: Big, loud Huntsman Center crowd lifted Utes against BYU
Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak liked what he saw in the Huntsman Center Saturday night — on and off the court.
Besides the satisfaction associated with the Utes’ 81-64 win over BYU, Krystkowiak acknowledged that the fan support was powerful and choked him up. In his postgame press conference, Krystkowiak told reporters that the student section was something he dreamed about since seeing some of Utah’s football crowds.
The MUSS came out in force, creating an atmosphere and support that sophomore Jordan Loveridge said he had never seen up on the hill — even through his days of attending games while in middle school. The announced attendance of 13,733 was the program’s biggest draw in years.
“Right from the start it fired us up even more — just to see that we do have the support,” Loveridge said. “We did have a lot of fans that wanted us to win and have a good game. So it just motivated us right from the start.”
Loveridge recalled seeing old highlight films of fans like that and added that it was great to see it again. He called it the best atmosphere he has played in front of.
Teammate Brandon Taylor was also impressed.
“Man, the one word is ‘wow.’ Even like an hour before the game I looked into the stands and said, ‘Wow, is this really how it used to be back in the old time,” he noted. “I felt like it was history in this gym.”
Taylor, who added that it was like a dream, said that he didn’t really have a feel for the MUSS at basketball games until Saturday.
“The fans, they helped us out so much. You feel that home spirit. For everybody to be in tune like how they were, this whole gym was rocking,” he explained. “It was loud. It was packed. It was just a great atmosphere to be a part of.”
It reminded Krystkowiak of his playing days at Montana, where the Grizzlies played in front of what he called great home crowds at the old Harry Adams Fieldhouse in Missoula.
“I love being a part of college basketball because I think that’s what it is all about,” he said.
Krystkowiak fondly recalls the folks in Montana ramping things up for big games with teams like Idaho, Montana State, Boise State, Weber State and Nevada.
“I want our guys to be able to enjoy the same kind of college experience that I did and that was one of my best memories — some of those home crowds,” Krystkowiak said in praising how the MUSS and the Utah band got everyone fired up for the BYU game. “Watching that group of students come out and support us, I think it got contagious in the arena.”
The student section, he continued, is the heartbeat of any arena.
“It was unbelievable seeing those three sections in red,” Krystkowiak said. “My hope is a number of those folks will come back and help us here in the remaining games.
“Maybe they enjoyed the product and the experience and will come back and help us. All the hours that the guys are putting in — weight room and study halls and all the other things that go into it — it’s really nice to know that there’s a group of fans that want to come out and support them and to me that’s their reward for a lot of the hard work,” he continued.
With Pac-12 play approaching, the Utes are hopeful of getting similar support during games. Krystkowiak said it would be unbelievable.
The players also see it as a big advantage.
“With a crowd like that, it helps. It really does. There’s so much motivation,” Taylor said. “It’s like you want to do it for them. You want to succeed. You don’t want to let anybody down and stuff like that. So they’re very helpful. They really are. They keep us rocking. They keep us going.”
Taylor wants people to start saying that not many teams come into the Huntsman Center and beat the Runnin’ Utes. They enter Thursday’s game against Texas State with an 11-game winning streak at home.
A loud, supportive crowd, Loveridge added, makes a big difference.
“It’s already hard to go on a road game and win,” he said. “But then when you have an atmosphere like that it makes it even tougher.”
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