Tuesday night, the Utes will try to do something they haven't done since spring of 2006, defeat BYU on the hardwood. If you'll remember, that was the second season of the Ray Giacoletti regime and though Utah had taken a giant step back from where they were a year earlier (29 wins, Sweet Sixteen berth), they still managed to knock off the Cougars in the Huntsman Center and then again in the Mountain West Tournament.
Since that victory, though, nothing has gone right for Utah, while the opposite seems to have happened to our rivals. The season after that victory saw Utah lose their first home game to BYU in over ten years. A year later, the Utes lost again in Salt Lake, though this time they were far more competitive.
So why is this game so important for Jim Boylen and the Runnin' Utes? Well for starters, Utah hasn't lost three in a row to BYU at home since a span of three games from 1964 to 1967. That's quite a bit ago and I doubt Boylen would want to fall to 0-3 (most likely 0-4) in the rivalry.
But most importantly, this game very well could make or break Utah's season. A victory will still put them in position to contend for the conference crown, while a defeat most likely dooms them to another mediocre season. The importance of staying in the conference title hunt could play out come March, when the Utes might be on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament berth. Lose Tuesday, though, and that bubble probably bursts and we're only in January.
With that said, I want to go back to the first point, because I think it's important to defeat the Cougars, even if this season ends short of the Tournament. It's been hard to watch the Utes struggle, but it's also been equally hard to watch BYU succeed in hoops. The last three years, which have been the dark ages for many Ute fans, have also been very kind to the Cougars. That won't change Tuesday, but it could help bridge the gap between the programs and it's obvious there is one, though I think it's less than a year ago. Win and it's a whole new rivalry, lose and we're looking at a prolonged period of being owned by the Cougars. At the U, that just isn't acceptable.