Longtime rivals heading in opposite directions, meet Saturday

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By Ryan Waite

Just seven seasons ago, the University of Utah men’s basketball program was a national force. It boasted the college basketball player of the year and future No. 1 pick in the NBA draft in Andrew Bogut and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Seven seasons before that, the Utes were playing in the national championship game against Kentucky, with the likes of future NBA players Andre Miller and Michael Doleac.

Now the Utes are struggling to get a win against a Division I opponent, as they head into Saturday’s Deseret First Duel with BYU. Utah is 1-7 on the year, the worst start in program history. Their only win was a three-point victory over San Diego Christian College, an NAIA junior college, in the season opener.

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BYU guard Brock Zylstra celebrates after scoring a 3 pointer against Oregon on Saturday. The Cougars easily beat the Ducks 79-65.

First-year Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak hopes his team will make improvements soon as it prepares to face its longtime rival.

“Hopefully we quit making some of the mistakes we are making,” he said after a loss last week. “I know we will improve. The unfortunate thing is that all teams improve as the season goes along and we have a lot of work to do. Will that improvement lead to some Ws? I certainly hope so.”

While Krystowiak tries to keep his team together, the Utes seem to be imploding. The Utes will have only three returning players from last year’s 13-18 team this Saturday, as many of last year’s team members transferred after former coach Jim Boylen was fired.

Although the Utes are struggling, the Cougars are 7-2 and playing their best basketball of the season, coming off a 94-66 win over another in-state opponent, Weber State.

Although the programs seem headed in opposite directions, BYU players aren’t taking this longtime rivalry game lightly.

“We know we’re going to get their best effort,” senior forward and team captain Noah Hartsock said. “They’re going to come out and play hard. I mean, it’s BYU and Utah. We’ve been playing for so long. It’s a little different feel because we don’t have a conference alliance or anything but it’s still going to be an intense game and we’re expecting a really big effort from them.”

Cougar co-captain Brock Zylstra agreed.

“I think any time BYU and Utah play in anything, it can be [like] in chess, it’s going to be a big game,” he said. “It’s going to be a game that causes a lot of tension and aggressive play from both sides. It’s still a rivalry.”

Tipoff for the game is at noon in the Hunstman Center on the University of Utah campus. Tickets are still available  and can be purchased through UtahTickets.com. It can also be viewed on FSN or heard on KSL Newsradio.

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