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SALT LAKE CITY — The Runnin' Utes finally got the figurative monkey off its back and got a big win over the BYU Cougars Saturday night, winning 81-64. It was the first time since 2009 Utah has beat the Cougars in basketball.
Although the rivalry has been fairly lopsided over the years, in favor of the Cougars, a 17-point victory on the home court against a good team (especially your rival) will certainly make up for lost time.
"It's a great lift," Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "I think for some of the Salt Lake kids who have watched this rivalry for a long time it means a great deal to them."
"This is a great win for the program and it shows Utah basketball is back and we are headed in the right direction," sophomore Jordan Loveridge said.
Not only was it good for the players, it was good for fans and for the current state of Utah basketball, which has struggled in recent years to remain relevant in the state. For the last few years, BYU, Utah State, Weber State, and quite possibly Westminster, Utah Valley and Salt Lake Community College had better-performing basketball teams.
When I walked out I got a little choked up; it had to mean just as powerful as thought to our guys. I walked out and looked at that student section and I've gone to a lot of football games and seen that student section and always kinda daydreamed that it would be nice if we could get that kind of act at a basketball game.
Nevertheless, the Utes stayed the course and Krystkowiak endured the doldrums of multiple losing seasons.
"We had a lot of games where maybe we got beat, and we stayed the course. But this one is a great win for our program and everybody that's part of the Ute family," Krystkowiak said. "It's just a part of the process; it's a big part of the process but I couldn't be more proud."
Utah, lead by the offensive effort of Loveridge, came out firing early and never looked back. Loveridge quickly scored 12 points and Utah's defense held BYU to 33-percent shooting on the night.
The Utes came out crashing the boards and were good at negating BYU's transition offense, which moves quickly and scores just as fast.
"There were a number of times we sent four guys back so we didn't get caught in the transition game," Krystkowiak said. "And our one guy (Dallin Bachynski) that was down there doing battle came away with some extra possessions and had some big ones for us and guys found him at the rim."
Utah took advantage of BYU's poor shooting, but even the Runnin' Utes didn't have its most productive night, shooting only 42 percent. Utah's defensive effort frustrated BYU's big scorers — Matt Carlino, Tyler Haws and Eric Mika — and kept the Cougars from moving the ball quickly.
"Coach Krystkowiak had a good game plan defensively," junior Delon Wright said. "We knew what their personnel was going to do from what we worked on in practice. We saw them get frustrated after we started making shots in the beginning of the game."
Nevertheless, a near-sellout crowd was a big boost to Utah's success Saturday. Speaking about the large turnout, Krystkowiak said it was about as close to a dream come true as possible.
"When I walked out I got a little choked up; it had to mean just as powerful a thought to our guys," he said. "I walked out and looked at that student section and I've gone to a lot of football games and seen that student section and always kinda daydreamed that it would be nice if we could get that kind of act at a basketball game.
"I truly believe our student section and band does a tremendous job; that's the heartbeat of the Huntsman Center," Krystkowiak added. "And when those people come in and they're interested in supporting us like they are, it's contagious."
Loveridge, too, was complementary to the support Saturday night.
"The atmosphere and the fans — I've been coming here since middle school and I've never seen that kind of support," Loveridge said. "It was a big boost right out of the gate."
Krystkowiak was thankful to the Utah fan base who came out to the game and hopes Saturday's win will bring more fans into the Huntsman Center.
"I want to thank them for showing up and supporting us," he said. "Hopefully they enjoyed the product that was out there and maybe they'll come back and check it out again and continue to follow us."
Utah's win over BYU will certainly help its strength of schedule and give the program a good sense of where it is heading into Pac-12 play in a couple of weeks. But the Utes need to build on Saturday's win and get some good wins in the Pac-12 to have a shot at the NCAA tournament.