BYU Upsets Utah, Reaches MWC Title Game

Todd Christensen battles Hanno Möttölä for a loose ball

LAS VEGAS (March, 10, 2000) -- On the eve of the BYU-Utah Mountain West Conference semifinal matchup, Alex Jensen commented that the BYU men's basketball program could truly be considered "back" when the Cougars beat "us." Us, referring to Jensen's University of Utah squad, which is not only BYU's biggest rival but also the MWC program with the most respect.

If Jensen proves to be a soothsayer, then consider the Cougars to be officially back as of Friday night.

BYU ended a 12-game losing streak to the Utes with a 58-54 win at UNLV's Thomas and Mack Center.

"That wasn't for me," Cleveland said. "There's a lot of people in Provo, Utah, that have really struggled with not having it [the rivalry] be competitive. If anything this says this is going to to be competitive."

"It feels real good. When I go back to school I don't have to listen to everybody on my back saying you can't beat Utah," BYU guard Terrell Lyday said.

Lyday finally had a solid performance against the Utes with 16 points, but for the second night in a row, BYU used punishing defense and a surprise performance from sophomore Eric Nielsen to pull off the upset. This time around, BYU's defense held the Utes to just 31 percent shooting (17-of-55) for the game, while Eric Nielsen backed up his eight-point, 11-rebound game against New Mexico with a career-high 17 points and nine boards.

"He was just phenomenal," Cleveland said.

After missing a slew of free throws down the stretch, the final horn was a welcome relief for the Cougars.

"We didn't need to make it as close as we did, but when it's been ... 12 times in a row, sometimes you wonder if you can do it," Cleveland said.

The scene was typified by Nate Cooper jumping up on a courtside table and pumped his arms toward the small contingent of blue-clad fans. The victory marked the end of seasons of frustration. The last Cougar win over a Utah was in 1995.

"They were playing like they haven't beaten their in-state rival for five years," Jensen said.

The victory was also the 20th of the season for BYU (20-9) and put them in the MWC title game against UNLV. The last time the Cougars hit the 20-win plateau was also 1995.

Although the conference doesn't have an automatic bid, it is believed the winner of Saturday's game will be invited to the NCAA Tournament along with Utah (22-8).

"It just keeps the door open," Cleveland said.

"If we win tomorrow ... it would be hard to deny us," Cooper said.

With BYU's stars Terrell Lyday and Mekeli Wesley struggling in the first half, a trip to the championship game seemed unlikely. But Nielsen single-handedly kept the Cougars within striking distance. Lyday, who went for 14 second-half points, and Wesley had two points apiece at the break with Utah leading 30-26. Nielsen, who entered the tournament averaging just 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per outing, had 11.

Lyday finally found a way to score against the Utes in the second half, and despite some suspect free-throw shooting in the closing seconds, made the difference down the stretch.

All season long, the Utes have relied on their defense to bail them out in games when the offense struggled. But it was the Cougars that used this theory on a night when they shot just 40 percent from the field.

"We've always relied on our defense and rebounding and it just wasn't there tonight," Jensen said.

The biggest defensive stand of the evening came midway through the second half. With 11:43 to play Jensen, who finished with just six points, drilled a 3-pointer to knot the game at 40. But Utah managed only three points over next the eight minutes, some of which was by its own doing -- missing three free throws along the way. The BYU defense, however, was also partly responsible for the 1-of-8 shooting by the Utes during the stretch and three turnovers.

The Cougars, meanwhile, mustered only eight points -- six by Lyday -- but it was enough to take a 48-43 lead. After a pair of Nielsen buckets and a Nathan Cooper jumper, the lead was up to 54-46 with time running out for Utah.

But BYU left the door open by missing five of its next eight free throw attempts, including a 2-of-6 performance by Lyday, a 76-percent shooter.

"I just wanted to make the game exciting," Lyday joked.

Two huge shots by Utah star Hanno Mottola and a bucket in the post by Nate Althoff gave the Utes a chance. Mottola's three-point play with 43.2 seconds to play cut the BYU lead to 57-54. The Utes had a chance to tie the game when Wesley fouled out on a charging call with 14.6 on the clock. Mottola took the charge, but put up an air ball on his 3-point attempt at the other end.

BYU kept things interesting, however, when Lyday missed two free throws with just four seconds. Phil Cullen*s inbound pass sailed long and out of bounds on the opposite baseline, giving the ball back to the Cougars.

Todd Christensen hit a free throw with with a fraction of a second on the clock and the celebration of the Cougars' return began.

Official Basketball Box Score -- GAME TOTALS -- FINAL STATISTICS

BYU vs UTAH

03/10/00 6:07 PM at Las Vegas, Nevada

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VISITORS: BYU 20-9

TOT-FG 3-PT REBOUNDS

## Player Name FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN

15 WESLEY, Mekeli...... f 2-8 1-2 2-2 1 3 4 5 7 0 2 2 0 29

25 NIELSEN, Eric....... f 7-13 0-0 3-5 2 7 9 2 17 0 0 0 1 39

42 COOPER, Nathan...... f 4-7 1-2 0-0 2 3 5 4 9 2 1 0 0 35

13 VRANES, Michael..... g 0-5 0-2 1-2 0 4 4 4 1 2 1 1 0 28

24 LYDAY, Terrel....... g 6-12 0-3 4-8 1 5 6 2 16 2 0 1 0 37

04 CHRISTENSEN, Todd... 2-5 1-2 2-3 0 0 0 1 7 0 2 0 1 12

10 ALLEN, John......... 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 1 1 4 0 0 0 0 0 6

31 MONTAGUE, Matt...... 0-0 0-0 1-2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 4

50 NIELSEN, David...... 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 2 2 0 0 1 0 0 0 10

TEAM................ 3 3 6

Totals.............. 21-52 3-13 13-22 9 28 37 22 58 7 6 4 2 200

TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 10-30 .333 2nd Half: 11-22 .500 Game: .404 DEADBALL

3-Pt. FG% 1st Half: 1-9 .111 2nd Half: 2-4 .500 Game: .231 REBOUNDS

F Throw % 1st Half: 5-7 .714 2nd Half: 8-15 .533 Game: .591 2

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HOME TEAM: UTAH 22-8

TOT-FG 3-PT REBOUNDS

## Player Name FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN

13 MOTTOLA, Hanno...... f 5-16 2-5 5-5 3 3 6 4 17 3 0 0 1 28

50 JENSEN, Alex........ f 2-8 1-4 1-3 4 6 10 4 6 2 0 0 0 39

52 ALTHOFF, Nate....... c 4-14 0-0 5-9 5 6 11 1 13 0 0 3 0 32

05 HARVEY, Tony........ g 1-4 0-2 0-0 0 2 2 4 2 1 2 0 0 24

32 KILLION, Jeremy..... g 2-5 2-5 0-0 0 1 1 4 6 1 1 0 0 25

03 COLBERT, Gary....... 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 4 4 3 0 1 2 0 0 14

04 SHARP, Adam......... 0-0 0-0 1-2 0 2 2 0 1 1 0 0 0 3

35 JOHNSEN, Jeff....... 3-4 1-1 0-0 0 3 3 1 7 0 1 1 0 21

40 CULLEN, Phil........ 0-4 0-3 2-4 1 0 1 2 2 0 2 0 0 14

TEAM................ 3 2 5

Totals.............. 17-55 6-20 14-23 16 29 45 23 54 9 8 4 1 200

TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 9-23 .391 2nd Half: 8-32 .250 Game: .309 DEADBALL

3-Pt. FG% 1st Half: 4-10 .400 2nd Half: 2-10 .200 Game: .300 REBOUNDS

F Throw % 1st Half: 8-12 .667 2nd Half: 6-11 .545 Game: .609 3

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Officials: Scott Thornley, Verne Harris, Randy McCall

Technical fouls: BYU-None. UTAH-None.

Attendance:

Score by Periods 1st 2nd Total

BYU........................... 26 32 - 58

UTAH.......................... 30 24 - 54

BYU (20-9, 7-7)

UTAH (22-8, 10-4)

Tags: Results