The Runnin' Utes came from behind in dramatic fashion to steal an 86-84 victory against Boise State Friday night at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. Both teams came into the game with an identical record (6-3). Boise State' loss marks a four-game losing streak on a four-game road trip.
Utah, who usually starts slow, did the opposite Friday night, pulling to an early lead. At one point, Jim Boylen's Utes lead by as much as nine points before relinquishing the lead just after the halfway mark of the first half.
While the Utes had to be happy shooting over 50 percent, the opening half was clouded by seven turnovers, which came mostly through the same six-minute stretch in which Boise State caught up, and surpassed the Utes. Boise State senior forward Daequon Montreal could not be contained in the first half, scoring 19 points with just one three-pointer. After the half, Utah made adjustments and held him to just nine points in the second half. Even still, Montreal led all scorers, finishing with 28.
"I thought the adjustments we made at halftime were great, and our guys responded to them," said Boylen. "This group as a whole has done a great job at halftime, to start halves. I think you've all seen that. That's encouraging for me."
Utah's Will Clyburn was unusually quiet in the first half, but came alive in the second to finish with 22points, eight rebounds and six assists. Clyburn shot 57% from three on 4-7 shooting, including the game-winning three pointer with 11 seconds on the game clock to seal the victory.
"I didn't know if the ball was coming to me or [Chris] Hines, but I knew one of us was going to hit it. It came to me and I stepped up and hit a good shot," said Clyburn of his first game-winning shot. "I thought it was going to be short when it left my hand, so I didn't know what to expect but it went in."
The shot was created by point guard Josh Watkins' penetration and kick out, which accounted for Watkins' sole assist of the game, though it was perhaps the most important assist of the night. Watkins also hit two key free throws with 29 seconds left in the game after drawing a key foul as he drove the key.
"We've got some gutsy guys. I've been asking Josh Watkins to create and make plays. I told him at the time out, 'You've got to make a play for us,' and he made it," Boylen said. "He made the drive, he made the two free throws, hen he made the pass, which was the right decision. We've been coaching him on his decisions. I'm proud of him. It was a huge play for us."
The Utes, who are 4-0 when four more players score in double figures, saw five players score ten or more points. Utah was just two points shy of having six players in double-digits, as Chris Kupets had eight in the contest.
After Clyburn's 22, center Jason Washburn had 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Guard Chris Hines enjoyed a career-night, chipping in 13 points, while Josh Watkins and Shawn Glover each added 12 points.
Glover also enjoyed career-highs in both blocks (3) and rebounds (9), respectively. His nine rebounds was also a team-high on the night. Clyburn had a career-high six assists and guard Chris Kupets had a career-high with four assists. The Utes had their second-best efforts of the season in three different shooting categories; shooting 52.6% from the field, 45.5% from three and 83.3% from the free-throw line.
Also important in the victory were center David Foster's minutes. Though he finished with just two points and three rebounds, he also contributed four blocks, two steals and one assist. The numbers, however, don't seem to add up as his presence was felt more than in any other game so far this season.
"I thought David [Foster] was back to himself a little bit. The play at the end of the half was the old David," said Boylen. "I'm very proud of him, he's fought through it. With the knee, and the calf, he's fought through it. He hasn't made any excuses. He's worked and worked and tonight he was back to his old self. I'm proud of him, and I'm happy for him. It's been a tough three months for him."
The Utes, from Coach Boylen to all the players interviewed post-game each made a point of the crowd noise, and its role in the game, which would indeed play a role in the end. "I've been here for three years, and that's probably the loudest it's ever been, honestly. It was really exciting, and I hope it keeps happening," said Utah guard Chris Hines.
Will Clyburn also commented on the crowd. "I caught myself looking [around at the crowd]. I couldn't believe this many people were here," admitted Clyburn.
Head coach Jim Boylen praised his team's come-from-behind victory. "I thought our guys kept battling. They stayed together and fought through a lot of adversity in that game," said Boylen. "I was very proud of our team. I thought we were a team tonight."
The Utes will hope to take their team concept and momentum with them as they look forward to a trip to balmy Hawaii for a tournament next week. Utah will face what should prove to be an extremely challenging tournament and a big challenge in Butler on Wednesday, December 22 and either Florida State or Hawaii the following day, as well as an opponent yet to be determined on either Friday or Saturday.
- Utah, who was down by as many as 16 points with 14 minutes left in the game handed Boise State yet another heart-breaking loss.
- Boise has lost each of its four games by three points or less.
- Utah now improves to 5-1 at home on the season.
- The Utes' 7-3 record is the best start to a season on head coach Jim Boylen's tenure at Utah.