SALT LAKE CITY — A rivalry that continued uninterrupted for decades resumes Saturday in Provo after a one-year hiatus. Utah and BYU meet at 9 p.m. in the house that Marriott’s hospitality built.
The architect of that hiatus still hasn’t changed his mind.
There should be breaks in the routine, says Ute basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak. Asked on Thursday if he thinks they should play every year, Krystkowiak doubled down on what he said two years ago.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “That’s my personal opinion, no.”
The interruption in the series was spurred by the infamous incident in which Cougar guard Nick Emery sucker-punched Utah’s Brandon Taylor in the closing moments of their 2015 game. Citing safety concerns, Krystkowiak canceled the 2016 event. But he said this week he and Emery exchanged friendly text messages on July 4. According to Krystkowiak, the issue has been resolved.
Nobody is predicting things will be quiet at the Marriott Center at game time. Still, because Emery won’t be playing, and neither team is ranked, and Krystkowiak and Emery have made peace, this year’s game might actually be one of the more civil meetings between the schools.
No reason to let a rivalry ruin a perfectly good holiday season. Other than lingering resentment over the cancellation, there’s not that much to get worked up about this year. There’s too much time left in the season to say the game has postseason ramifications. The Cougars are picked third in the West Coast Conference. Utah is picked seventh in the Pac-12. Neither team necessarily needs the other to meet its objectives.
Considering their history, the game will still be hotly contested. But don’t plan on anyone taking a roundhouse. Krystkowiak doesn’t spend much time reminding players about keeping emotions in check, but “I think for the most part, everybody knows what that entails.”
That’s a good thing. Because if there’s one thing that could derail the series, it’s another “Emery incident.” There are only six players on this year’s teams (Elijah Bryant, Zac Seljaas, Braiden Shaw at BYU; Jake Connor, Gabe Bealer, Jayce Johnson at Utah) who were on the 2015 teams.
Odds of the rivalry continuing are good in the short view, but fair to partly cloudy after that. Utah is scheduled to meet BYU on Dec. 8, 2018, in the annual Beehive Classic. But the four-team format means they would only meet every third year. That would be fine with Krystkowiak.
However, there’s a game scheduled in 2019 at the Huntsman Center, too.
The rivalry well could continue beyond that, if for no other reason than politics.
Lately the parties have been agreeable and optimistic. Nobody this week has publicly threatened to drive a stake through someone’s heart. The buildup has had a respectful tone, at least among players and coaches.
“I think a game like this, you want to stay on that medium track and don’t want to be too anxious and too excited, but you want to make sure you’re up and ready for the game,” said Utah guard Parker Van Dyke, from Salt Lake. I think based on the personality of Coach K, he does a great job of making sure we’re not too emotional.”
Regardless, Utah’s biggest games of the regular season will be against Arizona, USC or even surprise giant-killer Arizona State. BYU’s summit will be two games against Saint Mary’s and two against Gonzaga.
Looking objectively, the schools have seldom had such an invitation to get along. They don’t play in the same conference, and the game lacks the power conference vs. independence venom that accompanies football. Meanwhile, they’ve had a year to cool down — or get lathered up.
Is Krystkowiak glad he canceled the 2016 game?
“Oh, I am,” he said. “I mean, short of what I put our department through it caused a lot of extra work for our (athletic) department. Not to be selfish and say, ‘Yeah, I would have done the same thing,’ but it had some implications that I didn’t expect.”
You mean the part where the politicians and legal threats got involved?
Still, Rick Majerus, who once exited the Marriott Center court yelling, “I’m still king of the hill!” is gone. There’s no Jimmer Fredette to drop half-court shots on the Utes’ heads. Emery has sent his conciliatory text to Krystkowiak, while the coach has declared the incident with Emery settled.
All is calm, all is bright.
The basketball rivalry certainly has a history worth keeping. BYU leads the series 129-128. The rivalry that started in 1909 has taken exactly two breaks. The first was 73 years ago, due to World War II. The second layoff was last year, for World War III, i.e. the Emery sucker-punch. Now they’re back to normal business.
Players on both sides will be cautioned not to let emotions get the best of them. Good idea. There’s no reason to provide an excuse to stop the rivalry for at least another 73 years.