In the Southwestern part of the Beehive State, there are two schools separated by a 50-mile trip up or down Interstate 15, depending on which school you attend or support. It is a rivalry in its infancy. But, a rivalry, nonetheless.
One is a newcomer to the Division I ranks, in just its third year of the transition phase from Division II.
The other was an established member of the Big Sky Conference before becoming the newest member of the WAC in 2022.
And coming into Thursday night, both of these teams were an identical 4-7 in WAC play.
Once again, the Southern Utah-Utah Tech rivalry game did not disappoint.
Beon Riley had 16 points in his return after missing a month and Utah Tech escaped with a 70-68 win over the T-Birds at Burns Arena.
Escaped might be the verb of the night.
Well, Utah Tech led by 69-58 with 1:38 to play. The game should have been over.
However, Southern Utah took advantage of missed free throws, a soft defense and an unusual overturn of a foul call with four seconds to play.
After making four straight free throws late in the second half, Unisa Tursay then missed a pair with 44 seconds to play. A pair of Braden Housley free throws on the following possession cut the deficit to six with 39 seconds left.
On the following Utah Tech possession, Jaylen Searles missed a pair of free throws. And once again, Southern Utah got to the free throw line on the other end. Zion Young got fouled by Caleb Stearman going to the hole and proceeded to knock down both free throws.
Four-point game. 19 seconds to play.
A Utah Tech turnover, and two offensive rebounds later led to a Jamari Sibley bucket to cut the deficit to two with eight seconds to play.
If you think that stretch of play was wild, you won’t believe what happened next. Well, what almost happened.
Southern Utah was forced to foul after Beon Riley threw a beautiful inbound pass to Noa Gonsalves out of a timeout to break the press.
However, the free throw shooting woes continued to for the Trailblazers. Gonsalves hit one of two free throws to make it a three-point game with seven seconds to play.
But, once again, Southern Utah forced a foul call. And after Dom Ford hit one of two to make it a two-point game with four seconds to play, the unthinkable nearly happened.
Southern Utah initially was called for a foul on the tie up. However, on the Jumbotron, a replay made it appear that Unisa Turay may have stepped out of bounds before the foul call.
After a lengthy review, the Southern Utah bench erupted when the officials made the call.
One last crazy moment in a wild rivalry game.
Southern Utah got the ball, under its own basket, with four seconds to play.
A pump fake later and all of the fans inside Burns Arena held their breath as Dom Ford heaved up a 3-pointer.
The release was good. Arch was on point. And it appeared Southern Utah was going to shock everyone inside Burns Arena.
The shot was in. But then, it wasn’t. It was simply that close.
And even after all of that, Southern Utah forward Parsa Fallah came down with the offensive board. As Fallah was going back up with a shot, one side will say it was a foul. The other side will say it was a block.
Either way, no call was made in that moment and Utah Tech head coach Jon Judkins was able to raise his arms, whether in excitement or elation, as the Trailblazers escaped with a rivalry win.
For the third time in as many years at Burns Arena, Utah Tech beat Southern Utah.
Seven regular season games have taken place between the Trailblazers and T-Birds.
Southern Utah is 4-0 at its home arena, America First Events Center.
Utah Tech is 3-0 at its home gym, Burns Arena.
There was also the 2023 WAC Tournament…which was another instant classic in this budding rivalry. You remember that…Utah Tech was playing in its first-ever WAC Tournament. Southern Utah was playing in its first WAC Tournament. Back and forth the rivals went before Harrison Butler sealed a 76-75 win with a pair of free throws.
Even with a new head coach in the rivalry and a handful of new players in this rivalry, when the T-Birds and Trailblazers get together, it is must-watch basketball.
Do you want to know how competitive this rivalry is? As you saw from the home records above, the T-Birds and Trailblazers have split the home-and-home series every season since 2021-22. The lone season the two schools didn’t play a home-and-home was the 2020-21 COVID year.
Now, as member of the WAC, two schools separated by 50 miles get to play each other twice EVERY year.
And it will always live up to the hype.