COMMENTARY – I’m not gonna lie, the rivalry with the School Up North has been hard to stomach lately.
And why wouldn’t they crow. In most sports, it seems like Utah has moved up and moved on. The Utes are in the Pac-12 Conference, a Power 5 conference with potential for a national champ every season in almost every sport.
Meanwhile, BYU is an Independent in football, which is, with the exception of Notre Dame, a glorified I-AA classification (other independents: UMass and Army). And while the top-heavy West Coast Conference has a few excellent basketball programs, it is a long way from where the Cougars imagined themselves when they broke away from the Mountain West.
Honestly, I miss those Mountain West days. If the Cougars were still in that conference in football, they likely would have won at least six games this year and been going to a bowl game.
But, putting all that conference talk aside for awhile, it was oh so sweet to watch the Cougars dominate Utah Saturday night. Yoeli Childs, while not the biggest man on the court, was the best big man on the court all night. Elijah Bryant was nearly unstoppable and crazy Bill Walton (providing techni-color commentary on ESPN2) seemed to enjoy every moment.
It was a liberating night, with BYU basketball doing what BYU football has been unable to do: Grab the Utes by the throat and never let go.
The good news from the game: BYU won convincingly, there were no sucker punches thrown by either team (everyone remembers Nick Emery’s cheap shot, but seem to forget the one thrown by Marshall Henderson to Nick’s older brother, Jackson, back in 2010) and the Cougars gave BYU fans some hope that this rivalry will not be one-sided. In fact, despite having lost three straight to the Utes (plus Larry Krystkowiak’s one-year “I’m scared” hiatus), BYU has actually dominated the series the past 10 years, going 12-4 against the Utes in that time.
But let’s call the win what it really was: The Cougars defeated a mediocre Pac-12 team in the Marriott Center in a somewhat meaningless (as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned) December contest.
BYU plays two more meaningless games (unless the Cougars lose, that is) this week as Idaho State (Thursday, 7 p.m.) and Texas Southern (Saturday, 7 p.m.) visit Provo.
The real games, the ones that have postseason ramifications, begin the week after Christmas when WCC foes Portland and Saint Mary’s visit the Marriott Center.
If BYU is going to make itself relevant in the national scheme of things, those are must-win games and a top two finish in the WCC is requisite.
After all, beating Utah is fun, but going to the NCAA Tournament is what really matters.
Blue Blood is a sports column written by Andy Griffin. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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