The first rivalry game ever for nine of Jim Boylen's Utes got underway Tuesday night at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in a frantic pace as both teams went up and down the court. Delighted Utah fans watched their team jump out to a 15-10 lead, on the strength of strong play from centers David Foster and Jason Washburn.
The lead didn't last long, however as Utah got sloppy, allowing the Cougars to tie the game back up, and the two teams would play neck and neck for another few short minutes as the Utes found themselves tied 25 all at the 8:41 mark of the first half. Then BYU's Jimmer Fredette hit a three pointer; putting BYU up 28-23. They never looked back as Utah dropped a painful 104-79 loss, also dropping to 0-3 in conference play, and 7-10 overall while BYU improved to 3-0 in conference, and 17-1 overall.
Fredette's three-pointer to take the lead at 8:25 in the first half was one of his six for the game. From beyond the arc, Fredette was 6-9 (67%) and 16-28 (57%) on the game; finishing with 47 points.
Utah took the loss, and Fredette's performance in stride, acknowledging a great performance by a great basketball player, but ultimately felt that there wasn't much else to do from a defensive standpoint, having tried myriad defensive schemes and matching up multiple players on Fredette.
"[Fredette]hit some tough shots all night. We played together as a team defensively, and he just made tough shots. That's what he does," offered Utah point guard Josh Watkins. "We tried to limit it and we did, at first. Then he hit more tough shots. It was a little frustrating, but there's nothing much more we could have done about that."
"[Fredette] can score the ball in any game he's in, so we just had to go out and play hard, and play him as tough as we could," said Clyburn. "I think he's the best player I've played against so far in my career."
Head coach Jim Boylen felt that, for the most part, the Utes had Fredette fairly well-defended, and contested the majority of his shots, including the long-range bomber he sank at the halftime buzzer. Ever the optimist, Boylen would point to that particular shot as a learning opportunity, indicating that if his team hadn't taken a shot so early in the shot clock in the play just prior, Fredette wouldn't have had the opportunity to hit the shot that put his team up by 11.
It is these finer points that Boylen and Co. will take and coach to in the coming weeks, and remains insistent that his team is improving.
"I'm disappointed, but not discouraged," Boylen insisted.
For the Utes, they will try to take away the positives from a loss that admittedly stings, and build on them. Freshman J.J. O'Brien notched the first certainly many double-doubles in his young career, tossing in 13 points and a monster 11 rebounds. Sophomore Shawn Glover chipped in eight points after a relatively low-key, quiet season thus far, after coming into the season with expectations of being a key offensive contributor.
Oft-injured and ailing David Foster returned to the starting lineup and started the game aggressively, owning the paint for the first few minutes of play. Foster would finish with six points and team-high 12 rebounds. Their efforts paid off as the Utes significantly out-rebounded the Cougars 45-30, and enjoyed 44 points in the paint versus BYU's 28.
After those statistics however, the numbers get ugly; BYU took 18 more shots than the Utes did, Utah committed 22 turnovers, which BYU converted into 33 points.
For Utah, Will Clyburn led the way with 23 points, with Josh Watkins right behind with 19. Sophomore Shawn Glover, who has been quiet most of the season when he was expected to contribute significantly on offense, chipped in 8 points.
In post-game remarks, both Josh Watkins and Will Clyburn said the rivalry lived up to all its lofty expectations, despite the loss.
"It was pretty exciting, the atmosphere, and the whole game and everything it was made out to be, I really loved it," said Clyburn.
The loss has left a bad taste in the mouths of Utes, however, and none made any bones about looking forward to getting another shot at the Cougars. Point guard Josh Watkins called the loss "a slap in the face" and also said that the team felt that it was "disrespectful" when BYU Coach Dave Rose reinserted Fredette late in the game after taking him out shortly before to a chorus of "we want 50" by BYU fans, referring to the 50-point benchmark.
While such things won't be a focus for Watkins, or Utah, he did mention that it would remain in the back of their minds. More importantly, Utah plans to use the loss as motivation and a measuring stick, or benchmark to reach having taken one squarely on the chin by a nationally elite team, or at least a nationally elite player on a nationally ranked team.