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BYU Preparing For Competitive & Personal Game Against Utah

Brigham Young Cougars forward Yoeli Childs (23) slaps hands with guard TJ Haws (30) following a play during the team's matchup against Santa Clara Broncos at the Marriott Center in Provo on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. (Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball is riding a wave of momentum after a week of games that saw the Cougars go 3-1 and finish third in the competitive Maui Invitational.

Now BYU’s (6-3) attention steers to the rival Utah Utes (5-2) coming up on Wednesday night (tipoff at 6 pm, KSL NewsRadio). The rivalry will be BYU head coach Mark Pope’s first as the lead man of the Cougars. He had a taste of the rivalry as an assistant on Dave Rose’s staff for five seasons.

“These rivalry games are the best thing,” said Pope. “Everyone is on edge and intense and if you lose the game you hear about it for the year and it’s just miserable and if you win the game, you own the deal. It’s awesome.”

The BYU-Utah rivalry on the basketball court doesn’t have the same juice as it once did when the two were conference foes in the Mountain West Conference. The two programs don’t go after the same recruits much anymore, but there’s history. The two programs have been like brothers over the years and that’s what makes it special.

“It might be the most fiercely competitive game that we play all season, maybe the most personal game. And they’re fun and you remember them. Fans feel the same way. If we win, they’ll gloat all year long and if we lose they’ll try to get me fired all year long [laughs],” said Pope.

Lucky for Pope, he has one of the best players in college basketball returning on Wednesday night in Yoeli Childs. Childs, a senior power forward for the Cougars, fulfilled his nine-game suspension handed down by the NCAA and is ready to get back on the court to be with his teammates.

“It’s exciting. That would have been a really tough one to sit out. I’m just really grateful for the opportunity. Really excited to go out and play with this group of guys and just finally be back out on the court,” Childs said.

Last season, Childs had a season-high 31 points in BYU’s win against Utah last season including a highlight-reel slam dunk that is considered one of the best dunks in BYU basketball history. The win over the Utes was BYU’s second straight in the series and they’ll take that rivalry winning streak into the Huntsman Center for the first time since 2015.

“This is way more personal than worrying about recruiting,” Pope said. “This is going out in the backyard with your brother and slugging it out. It’s the best. People in the state care about it and players care about it, and coaches care about it … like I said, you can’t ask for anything better. Look forward to this every year.”

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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