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Both Gach ready to make an impact for the Utes after return from Minnesota

Utah Utes guard Both Gach, wearing white, shoots
Utah Utes guard Both Gach (2) shoots during the game against the Sacramento State Hornets at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Allow Both Gach to reintroduce himself.

After transferring from Utah to Minnesota in 2020 then back to Utah for the 2021-22 season, Gach received a waiver from the NCAA ahead of Saturday’s game against Sacramento State, clearing the way for him to play this season.

In his first stint with the Utes, Gach started 14 games as a freshman and averaged 7.7 points, 2.1 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 20.1 minutes per game and had a few breakout games, like a 22-point performance in a loss to No. 19 Kentucky and an 18-point game in a win against Cal.

He was then expected to take a big step forward in his sophomore season and was Utah’s second-leading scorer that season, averaging 10.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 30.4 minutes of playing time.

He had a few huge games that season — he eclipsed 20 points three times — but was inconsistent in others, including a Pac-12 stretch of nine straight games where he didn’t score in double figures.

He shot 39.7% from the field but just 25% from 3-point range, and transferred to Minnesota in the offseason to be closer to his family.

He dealt with injury at Minnesota, where he averaged 6.8 points in 22.7 minutes while playing 29 games.

“I learned a lot, being in a different league, being more physical and things like that,” he said. “It was good being back home, like I said. I learned a lot on and off the court as well. It was good for me in different aspects on and off the court.”

Gach then decided to transfer back to Utah, beginning its first year under head coach Craig Smith, for the 2021-22 season.

“I just wanted to go somewhere where the coaching staff was familiar with my game, things like that,” he said. “I had talked to coach Smith before, when I was in high school and he was at (South Dakota) and when I entered the portal the first time and he was at Utah State.”

While he was waiting for his transfer waiver to be approved by the NCAA to make him immediately eligible, Gach wasn’t able to play in any of Utah’s games, be it a closed scrimmage against Wyoming, Utah’s exhibition game against Westminster or Utah’s season opener against Abilene Christian.

Gach did get to practice with Utah over the summer and in the fall, however.

“We had to be patient with a lot of that stuff. I think our compliance people did a tremendous job ... Both’s professionalism, I never saw one time, ‘What’s going on, coach? What’s the deal?,’” Smith said.

“We had to go through that whole deal and make sure to get all of the proper documents filed the right way, etc. I was really proud of him ... the way he handled it was like a pro’s pro.”

Now officially back playing at at Utah, Gach is looking to make an impact on Smith’s team, and got off to a good start on Saturday.

In 19 minutes off the bench, Gach was Utah’s second-highest scorer, tallying 11 points. He added three assists and two rebounds.

“Having Both back, what a great spark he had for us. I thought especially his first run in the first half, and his run in the second half was really, really good as well,” Smith said.

The 6-foot-6 Gach provides Utah with another dimension with his quickness, length, long strides and athleticism. He can be the primary ball handler or can work off the ball and provides the Utes with a scoring threat.

“He’s like Dash from ‘The Incredibles’, but Dash has way quicker steps. He’s more like a long strider like Usain Bolt,” Smith said.

“He brings tremendous speed and athleticism. He’s very skilled, he’s got great size at 6’ 6”. You saw a couple of passes that he made tonight where he could just see over the defense. He’s got great length, he’s just kind of a jack-of-all-trades.”

Though Smith did not coach Gach at Utah in his first stint, watching film of Gach’s previous season gave Smith an idea of his time with the Utes.

Smtih said Gach’s jumper has improved, and that he’s playing confident right now and has learned Smith’s offense and style and started getting comfortable in the system about five weeks into summer practices.

Smith also highlighted Gach’s decision making and his ball-handling as being improved.

Whether Gach will come off the bench or start remains to be seen, but he is open to doing both.

“I’m just going to do whatever role the team wants to me to do,” he said. “If it’s coming off the bench or starting, for me it doesn’t really matter at this point.

“I just want to do whatever I’ve got to do to make sure we win.”

On Saturday, Gach received a cheer from the Huntsman Center crowd as he subbed on with a little over 16 minutes to go in the first half for his reintroduction as a Runnin’ Ute.

He played a five minute stint in his first action with Utah. On his first touch of the season, he inbounded the ball on the baseline, then used a screen from Bostyn Holt to spring open at the top of the 3-point line.

Gach drew two defenders on him at the top of the key and alley-ooped it to Branden Carlson, who slammed it home.

Gach showed his burst of speed on his first points of the season, getting the ball at half court and using his long strides to attack the basket and draw a foul.

He made both free throws.

Gach pushed the pace when he brought the ball up the court following a Hornets miss with 12:30 left, finding Lazar Stefanovic for an open shot.

Stefanovic missed, but it was a good example of Gach’s playmaking ability.

Gach handled the ball on offense a fair bit in his first stint and also grabbed a defense rebound while playing good on-ball defense.

Gach later entered with just under eight minutes left in the first half for another five-minute stint. Playing primarily off the ball in this stint, he grabbed a defensive rebound, committed a turnover and hit a floater over 7-footer Hugo Clarkin.

Gach’s final appearance of the night came on a 10-minute stint, starting with 15 minutes left in the second half, and really shined.

He got two assists, first driving baseline to attract a double-team before passing out to Carlson for a 3-pointer. Later, he took a handoff from Dusan Mahorcic, who rolled to the basket.

Gach jumped like he was going to shoot before passing to Mahorcic for the layup.

Gach then made three shots in a row. He took the ball out of the inbounds with 11 minutes left, used a screen from Mahorcic and drove fast down the middle of the lane for a layup.

A minute later, he was open as a trailer and Holt passed to him for a 3-pointer, which he knocked down.

With 10 minutes left, Gach inbounded from the baseline, then got the ball right back at the top of the key.

After a few crossover moves, he shot from the top of the key for his 11th point of the game.

From there, there were a few negatives. Gach had two more turnovers, one on a bad pass after he posted up a Sacramento State defender and one on a carry, but overall, he played well and added a different dimension to the Utes.