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Utah Utes basketball: Record back to .500 after beating Wyoming

SALT LAKE CITY — Midway through the second half on Saturday, Utah was clinging to a one-point lead and having little success guarding Wyoming's superb freshman, Desmar Jackson, who had 25 points at the time.

Utah coach Jim Boylen was basically asking for volunteers when 6-foot freshman Chris Hines stepped forward and said he could guard the 6-5 Jackson.

"Coach said in the huddle, 'Who's going to guard him?' And I said, 'I got him,' " Hines said.

Not only did Hines guard Jackson better than anyone else on the team and help shut him down the rest of the game, he provided some instant offense, sparking the Utes to a 74-64 victory before 10,138 at the Huntsman Center.

The win evened the Utes' overall record at 14-14 and Mountain West Conference mark at 7-7 with two games left in the regular season. The Cowboys fell to 9-19 and 2-12.

The Utes' veteran players, Luka Drca and Carlon Brown, played poised down the stretch and led the Ute scoring with 17 and 16 points, respectively.

Several other Utes got into the act with Shawn Glover tying a career-best with 10 points, all in the first half, Jace Tavita getting a career-best six assists and Jason Washburn scoring seven points and blocking a career-high four shots.

But none made a bigger impact on the game than Hines, whose playing time has increased in each of the past six games to a season-high 17 minutes Saturday.

After entering the game with 11:41 left and the score 46-45, Hines sank a 3-pointer from the left corner, then hit David Foster with a pass for a dunk.

After a free throw by Washburn, Hines sank another three from the right angle to give the Utes an eight-point lead.

Then came what may have been the turning point of the game with 7:48 left.

Jackson, who hadn't scored for nearly four minutes with Hines guarding him, threw an elbow toward Hines, who responded with some words and a slight shove to the chest.

The officials immediately called a technical on Hines, but after reviewing the video replay, called a double-technical because of Jackson's elbow. Although the Utes only increased their lead by two the rest of the game, the incident fired up the team.

"I thought that took a little edge off them and helped our guys," said Boylen. "Our guys in the huddle were jacked up and it was good."

Hines added, "I think it helped the team and kind of changed the game at that point. I'm from Houston and I'm not going to take that type of thing, you know."

Hines went out briefly, but when he came back in, he received a big ovation from the crowd and went to work on Jackson again.

"When you guard him you can't let him dictate what he wants to do," he said. "I think that's what we were doing at the beginning, but I was annoying. Once I got into him, I saw he got a little frustrated."

While Jackson scored six more points the rest of the game to finish with 31, two came on a switch, two on free throws and two when Hines was out.

"Hines did the best job on him, because he got into him," Boylen said. "I thought Chris' energy and toughness got us going with his physical play. He's a tough nut and I was proud of him."

The Utes had a hard time shaking the Cowboys, who came into the Huntsman Center on a seven-game losing streak with their last win coming against the Utes in Laramie last month.

Both teams shot 13 for 31 in the first half and were tied 31-31. Wyoming led briefly in the second half, but a Drca 3-pointer put the Utes ahead for good at 42-41.

The Cowboys pulled within five at 67-62 on Jackson's last basket of the game with 2:01 left, but the Utes hit seven of eight free throws to put the game away.

Utah will play BYU Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Huntsman Center and conclude the regular season with a game at Colorado State on Saturday afternoon.

GAME NOTES: Jay Watkins took an elbow to the face early in the second half and didn't return. Afterward, Boylen said he had "concussion symptoms" and was kept out as a precaution. This came three days after Watkins took an elbow above the eye and had three stitches during the Air Force game ... The Utes outrebounded the Cowboys 37-26, the fourth straight game they've outboarded their opponent. Kim Tillie led the way with seven rebounds.

e-mail: sor@desnews.com