PROVO — Coming off an emotional win Wednesday at home against Utah State, BYU faces what is expected to be another intense game against Utah.
The Cougars and Utes collide Saturday (noon, MST, ESPNU) at Vivint Arena in the Beehive Classic.
BYU’s 95-80 victory against the Aggies marked the season debut of junior guard Nick Emery, who made an immediate impact by scoring 11 points and drilling three 3-pointers, dishing out two assists and grabbing two steals in 19 minutes off the bench.
“It’s a confidence boost for all of us,” guard TJ Haws said of Emery’s return. “He’s really going to help us.”
By defeating the Aggies, the Cougars (6-4) snapped a three-game losing streak. They played with more passion and energy than they did in a 113-103 loss at Weber State a week ago.
Meanwhile, BYU beat Utah last year in Provo, snapping a three-game losing streak to the Utes. Last year’s game was the first between the two schools after a brief hiatus. Utah decided to cancel its contracted December 2016 contest in Provo, interrupting the longstanding rivalry for the first time since 1944, when World War II shortened the season.
What led to the cancellation was an incident that occurred in the most recent game at the Huntsman Center in December 2015. With 1:44 remaining in the Utes’ 83-75 triumph, Emery threw a punch at guard Brandon Taylor under the basket. Emery was whistled for a flagrant 2 foul for fighting and was ejected. BYU suspended Emery for one game.
Not long after that game, Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak decided it was time for BYU and Utah to take a break.
Now the rivalry’s back on and Saturday it tips off at a neutral site. This will be Emery’s first game against Utah since that incident three years ago.
Emery withdrew from school a year ago as the NCAA conducted an investigation and he served a nine-game suspension to start the season before returning this week.
During the summer of 2017, Emery texted an apology to Krystkowiak.
Earlier this week, Emery said he’s prepared to be a target of fans from opposing teams, like Utah.
“I’ve made some mistakes in my career but that doesn’t change what we do as a team. It’s going to be fun,” Emery said. “I understand that there’s going to be heat at times and whatever fans or players say. I know who I am and I know that I’m here for my teammates. Whatever I can do, even if it takes the pressure off them, I’m willing to do.”
Emery said he’s looking forward to being involved in the BYU-Utah game again.
“Growing up, I’ve always known of the rivalry and I’ve played in the rivalry,” Emery said. “These are two good teams. We can’t treat it lightly. We’ve just got to trust our preparation.”
Haws wants to see his team play like it did against Utah State.
“I’m excited. It’s a huge rivalry. It’s going to be a great atmosphere, a great game,” he said. “Hopefully, we can continue to build on this energy. I think we’ll be ready to go again on Saturday.”
Against the Aggies, BYU forward Yoeli Childs turned in a 31-point performance, matching the 31 he scored against Weber State. Haws added 20 points, including four 3-pointers, while Connor Harding scored a career-high 14.
As a team, the Cougars knocked down a season-high 11 3-pointers.
“It feels good but we can’t be satisfied with just one win,” Harding said after defeating Utah State. “We’re going to celebrate (Wednesday night) but we’re on to the next one, for sure.”
BYU coach Dave Rose loved what he saw from his team against USU.
“This was a tough run for this group. The captains got the guys together. I knew there would be some real outward show of determination. But it’s inside that you’ve got to challenge yourself,” he said. “We took a team that’s playing as well as any team in the country as far as their results over the last few weeks. The guys were ready from the start.12 comments on this story
"We’re a team that’s had some real flat spots at times, even in our wins. (Wednesday) we had one little flat spot at the first of the first half. But other than that, it was a group of really determined guys that wanted to change things."
Haws said the key for BYU “to be a really good team, we have to be connected on defense. We have to be able to guard the ball for 30 seconds. We’re going to play a lot of great players. We have people to guard those players with five guys and all be connected at all times. I thought we did that (Wednesday).”
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Cougars, Utes on the air
vs. Utah (4-3)
Saturday, noon, MST
Vivint Smart Home Arena
Radio: 1160 AM, 700 AM, 102.7 FM