SALT LAKE CITY — Saturday's Utah-BYU game at the Huntsman Center has the look and feel of a classic "David and Goliath" matchup. The rebuilding Utes (1-7) are reeling with seven straight losses, while the confident Cougars (7-2) come to town with three consecutive wins.
Add in the fact that Utah is coming off its most lopsided loss in arena history — an 81-50 setback to Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday — and the prospects of a tight battle are difficult to imagine.
The Utes, though, think otherwise.
Senior guard Josh Watkins said they're determined to "put a real good fight." Junior center Jason Washburn shared his confidence.
"Because of the intensity of rivalry games and each team wanting to beat the other bad, you never know what could happen," he said. "Whether we're struggling or not, we're not thinking we're David by any means. We're going to go in thinking that we have a chance to win. We're going to go in thinking we're going to win. We're going to compete and just play."
Utah hasn't beaten BYU since a 94-88 overtime decision in Salt Lake City on Jan. 27, 2009. The rivalry, though, has remained intense.
"We're amped up. We're excited," Washburn said while noting it's one of the nation's biggest rivalries with a lot riding on it. "I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a good game and I'm ready."
Even with Utah in the Pac-12 and BYU in the West Coast Conference, Washburn doesn't expect the rivalry to diminish.
"It might increase the intensity. We only play them once a year now," he said. "That's bragging rights for a whole year, not just until we play them next in conference."
As for this meeting, the Utes have several things to rectify in order to compete. They were outrebounded 45-18 by Cal State Fullerton and opened the game with a 14-0 deficit.
"We understand what tempo we have to play at," said Watkins, who did not play in the loss to the Titans. "We've just got to do it from the gate."
A good start is pivotal against a BYU squad that Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said has a potent combination of talent and work ethic.
"It's a great basketball team right now," he said. "They play really hard."
Krystkowiak acknowledged that Utah's rebounding woes are a "sore spot." He attributes the problem to a combination of things — some related to effort, some tied to skill that needs to be coached.
A factor on Wednesday, Krystkowiak explained, was "a lack of desire" after the score got out of hand. Cal State Fullerton rebounded 10 of its 22 missed shots.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company