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Rudi, Rudi: How senior transfer guard led BYU past Utah

Rudi Williams tied his career-high 26 points in BYU’s win over rival Utah

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Brigham Young Cougars guard Rudi Williams (wearing blue) drops in a 3-point shot

Brigham Young Cougars guard Rudi Williams (3) drops in a 3-point shot as BYU and Utah play at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022. BYU won 75-66.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

BYU’s one-year investment in a quick guard from Coastal Carolina paid huge dividends in his first and only rivalry game with Utah.

Mark Pope brought senior transfer Rudi Williams to BYU in a nationwide search to replace Alex Barcello in the Cougar backcourt. While that has been a tall order this young season for Williams, the native of Hamilton, Canada, came off the bench to deliver a sensational career-high tying 26-point scoring effort in BYU’s 76-66 win over rival Utah in the Marriott Center Saturday night.

Williams’s last 7 points came in the final three minutes.

The win gave BYU its 16th win in the last 21 meetings with Utah, a team ranked No. 20 in the NET, an NCAA metric that helps in deciding who plays in the NCAA Tournament in March.  Pope, who saw his team lose to cross-town rival Utah Valley by 15, notched a 3-1 record against Utah with the win.

While Utah’s sensational center Branden Carlson gave BYU trouble, it was BYU’s athletic backcourt that gave the Utes fits when Pope went to a small lineup.

Utah struggled to contain Williams off the dribble, from distance, and inside the key as the BYU senior used his speed to cause Craig Smith’s squad trouble from start to finish. The win lifted BYU to 8-5 while Utah dropped to 9-3. It was BYU’s 10th win over Utah in the last 11 visits.

Williams scored 12 first-half points, most of those after Utah chipped away at an early BYU lead in the first 10 minutes for a 22-20 Ute lead in the first half. Williams then answered with two bombs within 20 seconds to give the Cougars a 26-22 lead during a 9-0 run at the 6:15 mark of the first half, and the Cougars never relinquished their lead.

Another key was the matchup between Ute 7-footer Branden Carlson and BYU’s 6-7 postman Fouss Traore. While Carlson scored 18 points on 7 of 14 shots, Traore had all of BYU’s points in the first nine minutes, providing a solid foundation for Pope’s offense to allow Williams step up. Traore, who got his second person foul halfway through the first half, made 6 of 10 from the field for 17 key points.

With Traore and sophomore Ally Atiki Atiki in foul trouble most of the game, Pope went to a small lineup with Williams, Dallin Hall, Noah Waterman, Gideon George and Jaxon Robinson, and their hustle and 3-point shooting proved too much for the Utes. 

That group helped the Cougars outscore Utah 21 to 12 on points off turnovers and that ultimately turned out to be the difference in the game. Utah committed 14 turnovers to BYU’s 13.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” said Pope. “We had eight turnovers at half and committed just five in the second half.”

Williams backed up that effort in the second half with 14, making 6 of 7 from the line when Utah deployed a full-court press, following a recipe showed by Creighton late in a charge to catch the Cougars in Las Vegas a week ago.

Utah staged an impressive comeback after falling back by 15 and cut the Cougar lead to three at 60- 57 on a bucket by Carlson with just over two minutes to play as part of a 13-1 Ute run. But Williams hit a shot inside the key, and Hall buried a 3-pointer trailing a fast break to put the Cougars up 65-57. 

That shot by Hall basically dashed the Ute comeback.

Both teams shot 41 percent from the field. BYU held the rebounding advantage 41-39.

“Rebounding is what is keeping us alive right now,” said Pope. “Work on the glass is something controllable and is based on effort.”