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Craig Smith Wants The Utah/BYU Rivalry Series To Continue

New Utah Utes head basketball coach Craig Smith. (Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – New Utah Utes basketball head coach Craig Smith will be diving into a deep rivalry with BYU when he begins his tenure on the hill this season.

For the last five years, the Utah/BYU rivalry has been hit or miss under former head coach Larry Krystkowiak. That isn’t the case with Craig Smith, who wants to see the rivalry series continue against BYU. Smith has a great relationship with Cougars head coach Mark Pope.

When asked at his introductory press conference on Saturday morning if Pope reached out, Smith wasn’t sure.

“I haven’t looked at my phone really all day,” Smith said. “We have about 300 texts. So I haven’t looked through them yet. But Mark has done a great job at BYU and I’m a firm believer, we want to keep this series going. They’ve done a great job there, him and his staff. I’ve always said this on the record over the last three years, I think it’s really important, this state loves and is passionate about basketball. So regardless of your affiliation, I think it’s important to play the state schools. Now, are we going to play every school every year? No. That’s just not feasible and quite frankly, that might not be the best situation for us to set ourselves up for success to get to the NCAA tournament and help our NET ranking.”

Relationship Between Craig Smith And Mark Pope

Smith was hired in 2018 as the head coach of Utah State, while Pope just finished his second season as the head coach of the Cougars. The series between the Aggies and Cougars have been played peacefully for the most part and not a lot of incidents occurring. It is widely known around the state that Mark Pope and Craig Smith have a solid relationship.

“So in terms of coach Pope, I don’t know if he’s texted or not or called but I’m sure he will and we want to keep that series going,” Smith said. “I think it’s great for both fan bases. So we want to keep that rivalry rolling full steam ahead.”

Utah State and BYU have played each other in each of the three years under Craig Smith. The Cougars won all three meetings with the most recent taking place in Logan.

Future Of The Rivalry Was In Question Under Larry Krystkowiak

When Larry Krystkowiak became the head coach of the Runnin’ Utes in 2011, the series with BYU was played annually until the year after an incident happened on December 2, 2015. The game was played at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. Utah guard Brandon Taylor was getting a rebound when BYU guard Nick Emery punched Taylor in the face.

That move did not sit well with Krystkowiak as he and Emery entered into a shouting match while the officials reviewed the play. Emery was ejected from the game as the Utes went on to beat the Cougars 83-75. Just over one month after the game, Krystkowiak held a press conference announcing a “cooling off period,” that they were suspending the remaining games in the series, which included just one game down in Provo in 2016.

Krystkowiak wanted to end the series so bad that he personally paid the $80,000 buyout fee that was included in the contract. Utah later agreed to resume the series in 2017 where the Utes lost to BYU 77-65. The Cougars went on to win three of the next four meetings in the rivalry.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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