Feeding the fire

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

There is only one event in Utah that can drive U men’s basketball coach Ray Giacoletti to don a red sports jacket–the annual rivalry showdown between Utah and BYU.

“When you get to Utah, it doesn’t take too long to realize how important this rivalry is,” Giacoletti said. “There is a tremendous amount of pride and spirit involved with both schools and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Coach Giacoletti started the annual Ron Burgundy-esque tradition in his first year at the helm of Utah basketball and the tradition will live on tomorrow when the Utes play host to BYU.

The Cougars haven’t found the confines of the Huntsman Center to be too friendly in recent years, as they have failed to win here for more than a decade.

Utah sophomore guard and die-hard Ute fan Jordan Owen remembers the last time his team was beat by its rival at home vividly.

“I was just a kid, but I remember Roger Reid bringing his team up here and just killing us,” Owen said. “I grew up a Utah fan and always hated BYU?I mean really hated them, but it went to another level that day.”

Since that fateful day in March of 1994, the Utes have absolutely dominated their rivals on the hallowed grounds of the Huntsman Center.

A year ago, the Utes put on a defensive clinic for the Cougars, holding their sharp-shooting rivals to merely 30 percent from the field and running away with a 79-60 victory.

“Last year’s game against BYU was probably my favorite moment at the U,” Utes’ guard Chris Grant said. “I just remember dribbling the ball down the court to a standing ovation as time expired. I literally had chills.”

While some players tend to shy away from making bold statements prior to rivalry games, Grant has absolutely no problem showing how he feels about his neighbors to the south.

“There is no better feeling than beating BYU and we’re going to do it this time,” Grant said. “You could be 0-20, but if you beat them, it makes the whole season worthwhile.”

Sophomore forward Shaun Green, who went to school at Murray High, agrees with his fellow in-state recruit on the matter.

“This game is a year’s worth of bragging rights,” Green said. “It’s not just another game and we’re not going to play like it is. This game means much more.”

The bragging rights Green is talking about currently belong to the U, which has won eight of the last 10 games between the two teams.

There are currently only four Utah basketball players who went to high school in state, but like coach Giacoletti, the out-of-state players learned fairly quick how important the rivalry game is.

“The game may feel like a normal game to the rest of us, but it’s more for Shaun and Chris–the in-state guys,” U center Luke Nevill said. “We know how much this game means to them.”

Having already experienced the intense enmity that exists between the two teams and their collective fan bases, U shooting guard Ricky Johns has great respect for the rivalry.

“The tradition speaks for itself,” Johns said. “Just talking to the guys from Utah, you definitely get a feel for what this game means. It’s going to be a competitive atmosphere and we’re looking forward to it.”

Chronicle File Photo

Luke Nevill drives against BYU’s Trent Plaisted during last year’s match-up. These two giants will battle it out again when the Utes play the Cougars on Wednesday in the Huntsman Center.