PROVO, Utah — BYU men's basketball improved to 6-2 on the season after beating rival Utah 82-64 at the Marriott Center on Saturday, Dec. 12.
"I couldn't be more proud of our guys," said head coach Mark Pope. "These guys have just answered the bell so far, you know. This is such a brutal stretch. I mean it's not fair to ask your team to do this. We played eight games in 18 days, traveling across the country, played a road game against one of our biggest rivals. You could just feel the fatigue of my guys growing and they just found a way to group together and battle, knowing this is the last game. We got a couple days to breathe here and in a huge rivalry game with the Utes. The guys just stepped up and got it done."
The win for BYU preserves a streak where BYU has yet to lose back-to-back games in the Mark Pope era.
After trading baskets early in the first half, the Cougars took the lead at the 10:28 mark and never looked back. BYU shot 55.4% from the field and 39.1% from deep for the game.
Five Cougars had career-highs in the game. Connor Harding finished with 17 points, Spencer Johnson had 16 points and Richard Harward added 15 points. Alex Barcello had eight assists and Caleb Lohner racked up 10 boards.
The Cougars went up 2-0 on a Harding jumper from the elbow. After the Utes hit a three, Matt Haarms put BYU back in front with a floater. Trading baskets with Utah, a Harding lay-in off a pass from Haarms then had the Cougars up 6-5.
BYU got back in front on a three from Lee and led 9-8. The Utes went on a 6-0 run to go ahead 14-9 before Haarms got a dunk down low, making it 14-11. Johnson knocked down a three in transition and the Cougars tied it up at 14.
Another transition Johnson trey then made it 17-14. Kolby Lee got a fast-break dunk after a Brandon Averette steal and then Averette hit a 3-pointer to put BYU up 22-16. Capping a 10-0 run, Harward scored on a reverse layup, putting the Cougars up eight and forcing a Utah timeout.
Lee hit a floater and Lohner added a corner triple, making it 29-21, BYU. Harward completed an and-one layup in the post, giving the Cougars an 11-point lead. Harding scored on a driving baseline layup and BYU led 34-22.
A pair of Lohner free throws and a Harding baseline jumper put the Cougars up 38-24. Alex Barcello scored his first points of the half on a driving layup and BYU took a 13-point lead into the half up 40-27.
The Cougars shot 59.3% from the field in the half, knocking down five threes on 50% shooting from beyond the arc, and making nine out of their final 10 shots. Harding went 4-4 in the first, scoring a team-high eight points. Lee was right behind him, adding seven points.
BYU held Utah to 31% shooting from the field and 35.7% from deep in the half. Alfonso Plummer led the Utes in the first half with nine points.
Haarms opened the second half with an and-one floater, putting the Cougars up a game-high 16. Harward scored on a put-back layup, Johnson knocked down a pull-up jumper, and Harward got another put-back layup for a 49-38 BYU lead.
Another Harward put-back stretched BYU’s lead back to 10. Utah knocked down a three, but Barcello answered on the other end and the Cougars led 54-44. Harward scored twice down low and it was 58-48, BYU.
Harding hit a corner three in transition and Lohner made one free throw, giving BYU a 14-point advantage. Capping another 10-0 run was an Averette floater and Harding layup that put the Cougars up 18 points.
Johnson knocked down a corner triple and then scored on a driving layup to put the Cougars up a game-high 20 points at 71-51. A 7-0 by Utah drew them within 13, but four free throws by Harding pushed the BYU lead back to 17.
A pair of free throws by Trevin Knell and a Lohner dunk on the break had the Cougars up 79-62. Johnson then knocked down his fourth triple and BYU went on to win 82-64.
The Cougars held the Utes to 36.4% shooting and 32.1% from three. Plummer finished with 19 for Utah. Riley Battin also added 14.
BYU out-rebounded Utah by 16 and scored 12 more points in the paint and 25 more bench points than the Utes. Haarms finished with seven points, four rebounds and two blocks. Lee also added seven points and four rebounds, and Harward tallied seven rebounds.
BYU will play next at San Diego State on Thursday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. PST (4 p.m. MST) in the Viejas Arena. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network and broadcast on the BYU Sports Network on BYU Radio – Sirius XM 143/89.1 FM HD2 and KSL 102.7 FM/1160 AM.
This story was originally published in the Daily Universe.