Utah beats BYU 81-64
SALT LAKE CITY (AP)
No one could ask for a better start than what Jordan Loveridge brought Utah in his first seven minutes on the floor against BYU on Saturday night.
Loveridge made a flurry of shots, set up other baskets with precision passing and caught the entire Cougar defense flat-footed on virtually every possession. It was enough to elevate Utah into rare territory - a dominant winner over the team's oldest basketball rival.
Loveridge scored 21 points and Delon Wright chipped in 16 to help Utah beat BYU 81-64, snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Cougars. Dallin Bachynski added 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench for the Utes.
Utah (9-1) had lost 11 of their last 12 games to the Cougars dating to 2006. Finally turning the tide against BYU is a huge sign that things have truly turned around in the Utes basketball program after a series of forgettable seasons.
''It's just a great win for the program,'' Loveridge said. ''We haven't beat them in a while, so it just shows that Utah basketball is back. We're heading in the right direction every day and we're only going to go up from here.''
Tyler Haws had 14 points to lead the Cougars (8-4) while Eric Mika chipped in 12 points and 10 rebounds and Kyle Collinsworth added 12 points and nine boards.
BYU could not get into an offensive rhythm in either half. The Cougars shot just 32.8 percent (21 of 64) from the field, 26.3 percent (5 of 19) from distance and 54.8 percent (17 of 31) from the free-throw line.
''We never really found ourselves,'' BYU coach Dave Rose said. ''Our shooting percentage was so bad that guys tried to take it all upon themselves to make plays and they ended up shooting from too deep or driving into traffic.''
Utah set the tone offensively and defensively from the opening tip.
Loveridge's hot shooting helped Utah race to a huge lead. He hit 6 of 8 shots in the game's first seven minutes and the Ute defense shut down the Cougar offense completely through the first half.
BYU just shot 31.4 percent (11 of 35) from the field in the first half and shot 41.7 percent (5 of 12) from the free-throw line.
Loveridge drained a pair of 3-pointers to help the Utes carve out a 10-2 lead. When BYU threatened to close the gap a few moments later, Loveridge found Dallin Bachynski for a pair of layups and sprinkled in three baskets of his own. His final basket in that sequence - a 3-pointer - pushed Utah's lead to 21-6 with 13:01 left before halftime.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said Loveridge often comes in and shoots hundreds of shots with his father Bill each morning. The hard work he puts in every day translated onto the court in the first half against BYU.
''I love the thought you have moments like this because you're putting in the time when no one is watching and (I love) the commitment he has made to it,'' Krystkowiak said. ''I feel really happy for him that he was able to get going. It was a huge catalyst for our energy level to start with.''
Utah kept the gas pedal pressed down throughout the half. Three-pointers on three-straight possessions - including back-to-back baskets from reserve guard Parker Van Dyke - boosted the Utes' lead to 32-14 with 8:59 remaining.
BYU managed to trim the lead a little bit, twice cutting it to an 11-point margin. It happened the second time on a Mika jumper in the final minute, but Utah answered with a jumper from Wright that beat the buzzer to take a 42-29 halftime lead.
''I could tell they were frustrated,'' Wright said. ''We were just making shots after shots and they couldn't really do nothing with it.''
Momentum continued to favor Utah into the second half. The Utes opened by making baskets on three-straight possessions, taking a 50-31 lead on a 3-pointer from Dakarai Tucker.
BYU made one last push to get back in the game and cut the lead to 51-38 after Mika made one of two free throws with 14:57 remaining. But Utah slammed the door shut on a comeback by ripping off a 7-0 run - culminating in a 3-pointer from Brandon Taylor - to take a 58-38 lead with 13:09 left.
The loss of Mika also hurt BYU's chances down the stretch. The freshman center was ejected after being called for a flagrant foul on Bachynski with 8:28 left in the game.