Bigger than the average game: No. 13 Runnin’ Utes get ready for big game against archrival BYU

Ordinarily, when a 23-4 team plays a 9-18 team, the matchup doesn’t raise many eyebrows. But for the No. 13 Runnin’ Utes, the stakes in Saturday’s game with BYU couldn’t be higher.

“Everyone’s up for this game,” U center Andrew Bogut said. “We definitely don’t take (BYU) lightly at all.”

Other than the obvious rivalry storyline, the Utes have something to prove after suffering their first conference loss Monday night at New Mexico.

“We want to redeem ourselves,” Ute point guard Marc Jackson said. “We want to go out and show everybody that our ranking was legit and we were supposed to be where we were.”

The Utes shot a meager 37 percent from the field against the Lobos, well off their season average of 52.8. On paper the Utes should do better against the Cougars, but righting the ship won’t be as easy as it seems.

The U will most likely be without two starters, with Bryant Markson and Tim Drisdom both battling injuries. The juniors are listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game.

“It puts us down a couple of our key guys,” coach Ray Giacoletti said. “We’re not playing a seven- or eight-man rotation to begin with, so it sets us back.”

The Cougars are coming off a rough two-game patch, where they lost games to Air Force and New Mexico by an average of 25 points.

The Utes aren’t counting on the Cougars to roll over and be blown out, especially with BYU fighting to stay out of the conference cellar.

“You can’t doubt any team, especially in a rivalry game,” Jackson said. “They’re very athletic and they can shoot the ball. If they have an on night it will be a very tough game.”

The last time the two teams met, the Cougs had an “on” first half, before the Utes pulled away in the second.

BYU held the lead most of the first period, with Austin Ainge hitting some big shots from downtown. The less-than-full Marriott Center was primed for an upset with the Cougars holding a 29-28 lead at the half.

It would not hold up, as the Utes used inside muscle to go on an early second half run, en route to the 72-58 victory. The Cougars could not stop an ailing Bogut in the second half, as he scored a game high 20 points to go with his nine rebounds.

The Utes lead the overall series 121-117, and have won 19 of the last 23 meetings.

After the rivalry showdown, the Utes get a week off to prepare for the regular-season finale against San Diego State. The Aztecs come to the Huntsman Center for a 1 p.m. clash on Saturday, March 5.

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