PROVO — Today's clash between BYU and Utah closes a chapter in the storied basketball rivalry.
It marks the final regular-season game between the two teams as members of the Mountain West Conference. Next season, the No. 7-ranked Cougars are jumping to the West Coast Conference and the Utes are bolting to the Pac-12.
Starting next season, BYU and Utah will play only once, in what will turn into an annual non-conference showdown. The rivalry is bound to be different moving forward.
"It will change because we'll play only once a year. To me, that game will become an even bigger game," said Cougars coach Dave Rose. "Since I've been here, you've always got the second game after the first one. It will be a one-shot deal, then you live with that through the year.
"For now, I'm excited about the fact we have a four-year deal and the game will continue. But I think definitely the feel of the rivalry will change."
BYU senior guard Jackson Emery, an Alpine native, doesn't see any special significance to today's contest, which tips off at 4 p.m. in the Marriott Center.
"I see it as a regular game. You play them twice. Anytime you get to play your rival twice, if you lose or win, you know you're going to get another shot or they'll get another shot," he said. "But next year, when it goes down to one game, it will make it more special because then you have to wait until the next year in order to get them back."
In January at the Huntsman Center, BYU crushed Utah, 104-79, as Cougar guard Jimmer Fredette, the nation's leading scorer, exploded for 47 points, including six 3-pointers.
BYU (23-2, 9-1) is coming off a 90-52 whipping of Air Force on Wednesday, while Utah fell at No. 6 San Diego State, 85-53, on Tuesday. The Utes (10-14, 3-7) are mired in a four-game losing streak.
"The rivalry game is a special game on your schedule," Rose said. "When you think about the first game, we played really, really well. Hopefully we can duplicate that.
"But it's going to be a hard-fought battle. You're playing a team that's been stung. They're a team that's kind of fighting for their identity. We're going to have to be ready and play well."
The BYU-Utah rivalry is one of the oldest in the country. The Cougars lead the all-time series, 126-125.
While many say the hoops rivalry between BYU and Utah has waned in recent years — the Cougars have won eight of the last nine meetings, including four in a row — Rose said it's still a heated battle.
"I can't imagine it being any more than it is now. There's a lot of emotion in the game," he said. "I think both teams will tell you that the preparation is intense. When you come to the arena on that day for this game, it's not the same. It's a little different."
"The fans are still avid about it," Fredette said. "They talk about it all the time. Utah this year has a lot of new players who didn't know a whole lot about the rivalry, as we have guys who have played in it for a long time.
"That (first) game's over with, so they know all about it now. They know how big it is. They're always reminded about it, as well as we are. Everywhere we go, we hear about it. Utah or BYU. You see it everywhere. It's still a huge, huge deal in every sport."
While the Utes, led by the likes of Will Clyburn, Josh Watkins and J.J. O'Brien, have been struggling, the Cougars know they're a dangerous team.
"They have really talented individual players," Rose said. "They're having a hard time putting it all together. You've got to guard against three, four or five of those guys who have had big nights to have big nights on the same night.
"Defensively, it's going to be a real battle for us to contain a great scorer in Clyburn, a great dribble-penetrator in Watkins, and J.J. O'Brien has become a great rebounder in his position. Those are all things we're going to have to address and make sure we're ready for."
"They're a talented team," Emery said. "We can't doubt that."
BYU sophomore Stephen Rogers, who scored 11, including three 3-pointers at Air Force, grew up in Arizona, but he knows all about the Cougar-Ute rivalry.
"I'm very familiar with it," he said. "I have a lot of family up here. I've known about it my whole life. Obviously, we beat them pretty bad at their place. They're not going to come out flat, that's for sure. They're going to come out ready to play. It will be a fun game."
Cougars and Utes on the air
Utah (10-14, 3-7 MWC) at No. 7 BYU (23-2, 9-1)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV: The mtn.
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, 700 AM
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company