SALT LAKE CITY -- After watching his teammates shoot nearly 62 percent from the floor in the first half, freshman guard Nick Jacobson caught fire in the second half as Utah notched an 82-75 win over BYU Saturday at the Huntsman Center. With the win, Utah (18-9, 9-3) knotted up the all-time series with BYU (19-8, 8-4) at 115-115. More importantly though, the Utes took sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference standings.
In his first trip back to Utah, senior guard Trent Whiting started out hot for BYU, putting the Cougars on the board first with a three-pointer just 14 seconds into the game. Another Whiting three put BYU up 8-2 just over three minutes into the contest. But as Utah's shooters began to heat up, the Utes fought back and tied the game at 13-13 on a Kevin Bradley three-pointer with 13:40 to play in the first half.
Utah proceeded to go on a 9-3 run, including seven points from sophomore forward Britton Johnsen, to take a 22-16 lead halfway through the first period. The Utes also began to pound the ball down low to junior center Chris Burgess, trying to take advantage of two early fouls on BYU senior big man Mekeli Wesley. Burgess, who missed the last matchup with the Cougars in Provo due to a fractured ankle, had six points in a two-and-a-half minute span as Utah pushed its lead up to nine points.
Another Bradley three gave the Utes a 12-point advantage, 36-24, with 5:01 to go in the half. Bradley, the only player on the Utah roster to average in double figures, matched his season average with 11 points in the first half alone. A late 10-2 run from the Cougars cut the lead to just four, but Trace Caton hit a three with 9 seconds left to give Utah a 41-34 advantage at the break.
Despite not taking a single shot in the first half, it was Jacobson who had the hot hand in the second period. Two threes and two jumpers by Jacobson in a five-minute span kept the Utes at a comfortable 10-point advantage. Jacobson finished with 13 points on 4-5 shooting, including three-of-three from beyond the arc. But the biggest shot of the night for the freshman came with just under five minutes to play in the game.
Two free throws by Whiting had brought BYU to within four points, 60-56, with 5:30 to go. On the ensuing Utah possession, just when the Cougars appeared to have made a defensive stop, Jacobson launched an NBA-range bomb that dropped as the shot clock was winding down.
BYU would get no closer than seven points the rest of the way, and Utah converted 13-of-16 shots from the free throw line in the final 1:27 to secure the victory and the top spot in the conference.
Utah shot 57 percent for the game, the highest for a BYU opponent this season. They also made eight three-pointers, another opponent high. Bradley led four Ute scorers in double figures with 16 points, as Johnsen and Burgess finished with 15 and 14 points, respectively. Whiting led all scorers with 22 points, while junior forward Eric Nielsen scored a season-high 16 points on 6-6 shooting, including one three-point basket. Nielsen's career-high of 17 points came against Utah last year in the MWC tournament. Terrell Lyday also added 14 for BYU.
The Cougars wrap up regular season play with two more road games next week. BYU will travel to New Mexico Thursday, March 1, and Air Force Saturday, March 3.