Even if the significance of the long-standing rivalry may have been lost on some of the cheap seats, which were empty of red sweaters throughout the nail-biting evening, it was not lost on Mitch Smith of the University of Utah.

Just thinking about Thursday's BYU-Utah game kept Smith awake Wednesday night. Well, it wasn'tjust the game. It was what a couple of BYU players said about the game.

"I turned on the TV sports at 10:25," said Smith, "and I saw two BYU players (namely, Mike Smith and Kevin Santiago) saying that they were going to come to Utah and win.

"All that did was keep me awake. I was mad. I mean, I'm all for confidence. But I'm not going to say I'm going to beat somebody on their home floor."

So Smith, Utah's 6-8, 185-pound senior forward, was good and ready when they started Thursday's game, the 198th in the BYU-Utah series.

As it turned out, that was a good thing for he and his teammates.

Some days you hit all the lights green, or know all the answers, or hear your favorite songs every time you punch a button on the radio. That's the kind of game it was for Mitch Smith Thursday against BYU.

As a result, Utah won 90-86.

He didn't do it alone. There were a lot of other contributors. Jimmy Madison came off the bench and didn't miss a shot. Jon Hansen had 11 points and hit the game-icer. Freshman Josh Grant, who grew up in the shadow of the rivalry at East High, had a non-frosh-like near triple-double (24 points, nine rebounds, eight assists).

But it was Smith, properly riled up, who was everywhere he needed to be when he needed to be there.

Like, for instance, when the game began.

Smith controlled the tap, then went down to the Utah end, took a pass, went up for a shot, saw BYU's Mike Smith (no relation) in his way, threw the ball hard and high off the glass, timed the rebound perfectly, and tipped in his own deliberate miss.

Even the BYU Smith, who knows a decent offensive move when he sees one, was impressed.

"Hey, you did that on purpose," said Mike Smith to Mitch Smith as they changed ends.

Mitch Smith smiled.

"Actually," he confessed later, "I learned that move watching Mike Smith. I'd seen him do that before."

The Utes protected the lead their Smith had given them. Near the end of the first half, they were up by five, 50-45, with just a few seconds left. The plan was to have Mark Lenoir get the inbounds pass and use his speed to fly through the BYU defense and lay in the ball from the left side of the basket.

Well, Mitch Smith knew it was possible that if Lenoir should happen to miss, the ball would come off hard to the right.

"That happens about 67 percent of the time on that kind of shot, if it misses," said Smith.

So he raced down to the right side of the basket and waited.

When Lenoir missed, Smith got the rebound and tipped in the basket just before the horn.

"Jon Hansen was there too," Smith said of his teammate. "I had to shove him out of the way to get the ball."

Those two plays, to start and finish the first half, were just enough to provide Utah with its four-point margin of victory.

Of course, it wasn't that simple.

In the second half, BYU rallied, and it appeared the Cougars might run past the Utes.

The first serius challenge came at 6:21, when BYU pulled within a point, 78-77. Anxiety was thick in the air for Utah's ensuing possession. But Smith kept cool enough to notice that BYU's 1-3-1 zone was having a tendency to float toward the foul line as the Utes reversed the ball back and forth.

He hung low, near the baseline, and when the ball came he had a clear lane for an easy dunk.

Then, seconds later, he stole a Mike Smith pass intended for Steve Schreiner to set up Josh Grant with a big fastbreak basket and give Utah five points worth of breathing room at 82-77.

"We chart their assist patterns," said Smith. "(Marty) Haws usually passes to Smith, and Smith usually passes to Schreiner. When Smith had the ball I moved over closer to Schreiner . . . The rest was larceny.

"I have to hand it to our coaches," said Smith. "I think they were up 68 hours watching film for this one."

Still, Utah squandered its 5-point lead yet again, and, with but an 88-86 led with 55 seconds to play, it remained for the Utah Smith to once again find himself in the right place at the right time.

The Utes had Mike Smith well covered as BYU angled for a game-tying shot. BYU's John Fish, subsequently, got a step on Utah's defense and made a move to the basket - only to find Mitch Smith stepping in to steal the ball away.

"He didn't see me," said Mitch. "Usually, you don't want to reach in and gamble in that kind of a situation. But there it was (the ball), so I swatted at it."

"I really thought that was it," said Smith. I thought the only thing that could go wrong now is if they foul me and I have to go to the line."

They didn't, and he was right. That was it. Hansen soon nailed his field goal to ice the win. After that it was all over but the showering - that, and getting home for the 10:25 sports.