PROVO — Capped by last Saturday’s emotional 77-65 victory over arch-rival Utah, BYU successfully completed its gauntlet of in-state games.
Since Nov. 29, the Cougars have beaten Utah Valley and Utah State on the road, taken down Weber State at Vivint Arena and ended a three-game losing streak to the Utes.
“It’s been an interesting three weeks. The victories are what make it kind of fun,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “The preparation is kind of agonizing for in-state games for coaches. I know our players love it and our fans love it. I’m happy for those guys to get that done.”
For Rose, scheduling games against in-state opponents is a priority, and another grueling string of in-state games could happen again in the future.
“I may be crazy but I just think it’s really good for college basketball. With the way things have changed in college basketball since I’ve been here, (BYU and Utah) were in the same league for years,” Rose said. “I’m glad we can keep playing. This was a nice win for us. It’s always good to beat Utah. But we’ve beaten Utah before and we’ll beat Utah again if they keep playing us. We’ve just got to do what we can do.”
Against the Utes, guard Elijah Bryant scored a season-high 29 points, drilled 5-of-7 3-pointers and grabbed nine rebounds. Payton Dastrup came off the bench and buried two 3-pointers and scored a season-high eight points.
Utah entered the game as one of the top 3-point defensive teams in the nation. BYU hit 10 of 20 shots from 3-point range.
“We all felt coming into the game with our staff it would be hard to get to the rim on this team because of their size and how disciplined they are defensively,” Rose said. “We just needed to make shots and take the best ones and have a chance.”
Forward Yoeli Childs scored 15 points and had five boards and three blocks despite battling leg cramps that forced him out of the game a couple of times in the second half.
“He gave us all he could. He was really good,” Rose said. “They were all good. It was a team effort and I’m really happy for them.”
Bryant was 8 of 13 from the field and had four assists against Utah.
“His physical presence and his skill set is really unique,” Rose said of Bryant. “His ability to come off screens and attack you at the rim and his ability to step out … what I really liked about it (Saturday) was he was so strong with the ball and really patient. When he got space, they zoned a couple of times and didn’t come out on him.”
Guard TJ Haws struggled from the floor, making only 1 of 7 shots, but he had six assists.
“They were really physical with him (Saturday),” Rose said of Haws. “I think a lot of that opened up what Elijah got because it’s really hard to take away everything.”
But the unlikely hero Saturday was the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Dastrup. The Cougars were without three injured frontcourt players — Dalton Nixon, Braiden Shaw and Ryan Andrus.
“We spent a lot of time with Payton this week. Last week, Dalton was out. We didn’t have time to adjust,” Rose said. “We played Weber with the weirdest rotation of the year for us. We knew this week that we needed another big guy and he needed to be ready to go. Payton’s a guy who has given us good minutes this year and helped us win the UMass game back in New York. We knew he would play minutes (Saturday) because of (Utah’s) size. His ability to pick and pop and hit a couple of shots was really big, and he had some big rebounds for us.”
Rose loved seeing the support from BYU fans with a crowd of 16,272 that packed the Marriott Center to see the Cougars play the Utes. He added that kind of game will help prepare his team for West Coast Conference games. League play tips off on Dec. 28 at home against Portland.
Before that, BYU hosts Idaho State Thursday and Texas Southern Saturday. The Cougars (9-2) have won six consecutive games.
“We’ll fill this thing up again two or three times before the year is over. That’s a great environment,” Rose said. “It’s great for this team to get it in and get (the Marriott Center) full and be able to execute in that environment and be able to get a big win. It’s good for the guys and a confidence-builder moving forward.”
No doubt, beating Utah was a boost for the Cougars.
“I give all the credit to our guys. They want to be relevant,” Rose said. “That’s a really good start to this point.”