An epic battle between the blue and red
As the Utes prevailed, and Cougars bowed their heads
The chant rose from the floor and into the halls
As the crowd shouted out loud, “Just like football!”
COMMENTARY — A week ago, Utah Coach Larry Krystkowiak held his first official press conference of the season; only one reporter even showed up. I naively thought it would be at the same time as the football press conferences had been, but I was sadly mistaken. However, the regular beat reporters who have covered Utah for years should not be able to make a similar excuse. At today’s press conference, the room was filled with reporters anxious to inquire about the 9-1 Runnin’ Utes.
This past week was certainly a story of contrasts. On Tuesday night Utah beat the Idaho State Bengals in the Huntsman Center in front of a crowd officially weighing in at 8,138, but looking and feeling much smaller. In particular, the MUSS was unusually meager, with barely more than a handful of students. On Saturday night, as Utah took down BYU, the MUSS stretched from the floor all the way to the top row near the rafters. The overall attendance tallied 13,733 which, gratefully, included far more red than blue in the stands.
Utah struggled to get going against Idaho State in the first half. With less than two minutes to play in the opening period, the Bengals had a 15-point lead over the Utes. At halftime, Idaho State still held a 9-point lead. Utah did not regain the lead until 12 minutes left to play in the game, and ended up escaping with an 8-point win.
Against BYU, Jordan Loveridge provided a key initial offensive spark shooting 6 for 8 from the field in the first seven minutes of the game, including three 3-point shots for a total of 15 points. At that point in the game, the score was 21-6 in favor of Utah, with Loveridge more than doubling the Cougars point total all by himself.
BYU made the first shot of the game to take a 2-0 lead, which it would soon relinquish. Within less than a minute Utah scored twice to tie and then take the lead en route to 10 unanswered points. That was the last tie of the game and the last time the Cougars would have the lead. Utah led by as many as 18 points in the first half, and by as many as 23 in the second half, finishing with a 17-point win.
Even the final score was somewhat misleading as the Runnin’ Utes simply dominated the Cougars for the entirety of the game. When it was all over but the crying, Utah had topped BYU in virtually every major statistical category. Most glaring and significant were the respective shooting percentages. BYU shot 32.8 percent from the floor, 26.3 percent from behind the 3-point arc and 54.8 percent from the free throw line. In contrast, Utah’s percentages were 41.5 from the floor, 31.0 from 3-point land and 78.3 from the charity stripe.
“Our focus, first and foremost, was defense,” Krystkowiak said, during today’s aforementioned press conference. “We were committed to playing defense and we were able to get a lead because our shots were going in.”
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It wasn’t just that the Cougars had a bad night shooting the ball. The Runnin’ Utes proved that they know how to play defense. It was no mere coincidence that BYU’s tandem of sharpshooters in Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino shot 3 for 11 and 3 for 15, respectively.
Very early in the game, Utah’s commitment to defense was apparent, as the entire squad would immediately release downcourt whenever a shot was attempted in order to set up on defense and prevent BYU from getting out in front and scoring in transition. Consequently, the Cougars held an early edge in rebounding as the Runnin’ Utes essentially conceded rebounds in favor of setting up their defense. That changed when 7-footer Dallin Bachynski substituted in at center for Utah.
Even with four Runnin’ Utes still releasing down court on shot attempts, Bachynski battled for rebounds on his own, corralling a total of eight for the game. Bachynski also presented a formidable defensive presence inside and was a significant factor in the win.
Delon Wright played his typical all-around game, filling up the box score with 16 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block. The block came just over a minute into the game on Matt Carlino’s first shot, and contributed to Carlino’s head-on-a-swivel and shaky shooting for the remainder of the game.
Freshman Parker Van Dyke, from East High in Salt Lake City (mere blocks from the Huntsman Center), came off the bench to hit two huge 3-point shots from the corner to keep the momentum going.
This was one of those games where watching it on TV was a poor substitute for being in the arena itself. The energy was off the charts, from both the players and the fans. While the MUSS is responsible for much of the noise and the chants, it was fun to hear the entire arena join in with the deafening chant — “Just like football!”
What was even more amazing was the stark contrast between the game against Idaho State on Tuesday and the game against BYU on Saturday. Both the players and the fans were lackluster against the Bengals, but rose to the occasion against the Cougars. As Utah gears up for conference games in the Pac-12, it simply cannot afford to be so inconsistent. If the Runnin’ Utes want to avoid the same fate that befell the football team, they had better come to play hard every night for the remainder of the season. That’s a fact not lost on Krystkowiak and his squad.
“The lesson (is) that we’ve got to be ready to go,” he said. “We have to place the same emphasis on defending anybody.”
What made last Saturday extra special was the fact that earlier in the day the Lady Utes had beaten the Cougars in Provo in a game requiring double overtime.
At least BYU’s hoopsters can console themselves with the fact that, unlike football, the basketball team will get a rematch with Utah next year.
Dwayne Vance is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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