#SafetyFirst jokes aside, BYU basketball looking to break winning drought against Utah

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BYU sophomore TJ Haws drives the ball to the basketball during a game in the Marriott Center while teammate Yoeli Childs looks on. (Photo by Rebecca Lane/UV360)

It has taken two years, 745 days and $80,000 (paid by Utah) for BYU basketball to bring Utah back to the Marriott Center. But finally the clash of the blue and red returns on Saturday in the Deseret First Duel.

In January 2016, BYU coach Dave Rose received an unwelcome phone call from Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. Krystkowiak was calling to inform Rose that Utah would not honor its contract in the upcoming season, canceling the rivalry game for the first time since 1909.

During Utah’s 83–75 win over BYU in 2015, BYU freshman Nick Emery received a flagrant two foul for punching Utah’s Brandon Taylor.

“The events that have occurred in our recent games with BYU led me to ask (athletic director) Dr. Hill several weeks ago if we could take a cooling off period and put the rivalry on hold,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said in a statement in January 2016. “The level of emotions has escalated to the point where there is the potential for serious injury. Chris said he would support me in canceling next year’s scheduled game against BYU. I called and let Coach Rose know our intentions a few days after our game (on Dec. 2).”

At the time, a baffled Rose didn’t know if BYU basketball would be able to conceptualize a contract with Utah again.

“It’s scary because how do you put another contract together?” Rose said.

But Rose and Krystokowiak found a way to settle their differences off the court, so now two years later (and $80,000 later for Utah) the blue and red teams are once again facing off. This time in the Marriott Center in Provo.

“We’ve all been pretty motivated. In general, we feel really good. Our bodies have been well taken care of and on top of that our practices have had a lot of energy. There’s a lot of emotion. We’re excited about the wins we’ve gotten recently and the little bit of momentum we’re building.” — Luke Worthington, BYU junior

However, instead of a “cooling off” period, the time away has seemed to only fuel the fire of the rivalry, at least for BYU fans. BYU fans immediately began a #safetyfirst campaign on social media following the initial announcement. Maybe the fans feel the passion of the rivalry more than the players because only two players — sophomore Zac Seljaas and junior Luke Worthington — are the only two players to have ever played in a rivalry game.

“It’s kind of weird that we’re the only ones that have played in this rivalry,” Seljaas said. ” It’s a fun atmosphere. It’s a fun game.”

Safety first jokes aside, BYU is ready for this rivalry to return.

“I really believe players now days do a really good job on focusing in on things they can control,” Rose said. “The fact that the series was postponed or canceled is really not my issue. The issue is I had a game that was to be returned last year and that wasn’t returned. That was one of the toughest things. … As far as the series, I’m glad we’re playing.”

While there is typically a lot riding on this emotional rivalry game, even more lies on the line in the return of the Deseret First Duel. BYU barely leads the all-time series with 129-128, meaning if BYU loses Saturday night, the universities will be on equal ground. Not only that, but BYU has been in a five-year drought against Utah in both basketball and football.

“We’ve all been pretty motivated,” Worthington said. “In general, we feel really good. Our bodies have been well taken care of and on top of that our practices have had a lot of energy. There’s a lot of emotion. We’re excited about the wins we’ve gotten recently and the little bit of momentum we’re building. The games have been different each one leading up to this point, but I feel like we’ve learned a lot since then.”

Rose says BYU has put a lot of effort into preparing for the Utes. Utah starts four seniors — something BYU can’t do since they don’t even have one senior on the roster. He noted Utah’s balanced offense, ability to shoot the three and solid post players for focuses on preparing for the in-state rivalry game.

“We’ve spent a lot of time preparing for our opponent,” Rose said.

BYU barely leads the all-time record against Utah 129–128.

BYU plays Utah on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 9 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

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Rebecca Lane

While her first language is sarcasm, Rebecca dabbles in English and Russian to achieve her lifelong dream of being a journalist. A BYU sports fan, reading enthusiast and wannabe world traveler, Rebecca is a Colorado transplant that is convinced Colorado's mountains are much larger than the many Utah County peaks. Rebecca manages UtahValley360.com for Bennett Communications. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccalane.

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