BYU shows off its depth, ability to hold on to second-half lead in 82-64 victory over Utah
Connor Harding scored a career-high 17 points; Spencer Johnson had a season-high 16, including four 3-pointers and six rebounds; and Richard Harward recorded a season-high 15 points, on 7 of 7 shooting from the floor, and collected seven rebounds.
Not only did BYU withstand a second-half rally from archrival Utah, but the Cougars also proved that they can win even without big-time scoring production from senior Alex Barcello.
Yes, BYU relied on its depth as Connor Harding, Spencer Johnson and Richard Harward turned in season-best performances Saturday at the Marriott Center, where the Cougars defeated the Utes, 82-64.
“I’m just glad we can finally help our point guard out a little bit,” Harding said, referring to Barcello. “We got everyone involved.”
Harding scored a career-high 17 points; Johnson had a season-high 16, including four 3-pointers and six rebounds; and Harward recorded a season-high 15 points, on 7 of 7 shooting from the floor, and collected seven rebounds. Both Johnson and Harward came off the bench.
“In-state games are always these huge rivalries, (with) a ton of energy and a ton of competition and a lot of bragging rights, so I just came out knowing that I needed to do something and I’ve got to have that toughness,” said Harward, an Orem native.
“This was like a lifelong dream,” he added. “I got to watch (his older brother Ian) play here against Utah a few times. Growing up, I wanted to be a part of this rivalry.”
While Utah outscored BYU in second-chance points in the first half, the Cougars had 13 second-chance points in the second half, keyed by Harward.
Meanwhile, freshman Caleb Lohner had eight points and 10 rebounds against the team he signed with originally. Kolby Lee finished with seven points.
Coach Mark Pope said he’s been trying for weeks to figure out how to best use the depth on his roster.
“I wish I could be doing this faster but we are making progress,” he said. “You saw that tonight. Rich was a stud tonight. This is the Richard Harward I know. That’s who he is. He’s such a handful down there.”
Barcello, who is averaging a team-high 19 points per game, scored 22 in Wednesday’s 74-70 loss to Boise State. Against the Utes, he scored a season-low five points, but he had a season-high eight assists.
“They were really dedicated to taking Alex out of this game,” Pope said. “Then you look at Alex’s numbers and it’s incredible how he responded with his season-high in assists. ... We had contributions from so many guys. Alex has been an unstoppable force for us for seven games. … As our team starts responding to that, then the next teams are going to look at it and be, like, we can’t overkill taking Alex out of the game because they can beat you in different ways.”
Johnson likes how so many players stepped up Saturday.
“One of the nice things about this team is we’re super deep,” said the transfer from Salt Lake Community College. “You saw Alex Barcello, he’s a 20-point-a-night kind of guy. They were really keying on him tonight. He did really good making reads and distributing the ball. We all have confidence in each other to take those shots in big moments. That’s one of our strengths on this team.”
After Wednesday’s disappointing loss, the Cougars (6-2) bounced back Saturday. BYU still hasn’t lost back-to-back games in two seasons under Pope.
For Utah (2-1), it was its first loss of the season.
But you couldn’t blame the Cougars that played in last year’s heartbreaking overtime loss to the Utes at the Huntsman Center for suffering from a case of deja vu.
A year ago, BYU led by as many as 16 in the second half only to watch Utah come back and win. At the Marriott Center Saturday, the Cougars led by as many as 14 in the first half and they led by 16 early in the second half before the Utes started creeping back into the game.
Utah made 8 of its first 11 shots in the second half to cut the deficit to 56-48 before missing its next six attempts.
“I was thinking about (last year’s game) mostly at halftime when we were up by 13. I was thinking, ‘Hey, these guys punked us last year and we’re kind of in the same spot,’” Harding said. “We had a lead and then suddenly they started chipping at it. Pope called a good timeout when they were only down by eight. He challenged us defensively, and after that we got three or four stops.”
Last year, Utah’s Rylan Jones and Timmy Allen torched the Cougars. While Alfonso Plummer poured in a team-high 19 points for the Utes Saturday, BYU held Jones and Allen to seven and nine points, respectively.
BYU and Utah traded baskets and leads over the first six minutes of the game before the Utes scored six straight points to go up 14-9.
But over the next five-plus minutes, the Cougars began to take control with a 15-2 run, which included a 10-0 spurt to seize a 24-16 advantage.
During that stretch, Johnson knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in transition and Brandon Averette had a steal, an assist and a 3-pointer.
BYU increased its lead to as many as 14 before going into the locker room at halftime with a 40-27 edge.
It was the second straight game where Barcello didn’t score until the final minute of first half with a layup with 55 seconds before the buzzer.
But on this night, the Cougars didn’t need Barcello’s point production. His teammates took care of that.
BYU visits No. 24 San Diego State next Friday.