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Cold-shooting Utes get dominated on the boards in loss to BYU

After shining against BYU last year in Salt Lake City, Utah stars Rylan Jones and Timmy Allen can’t match their 2019 heroics at the Marriott Center

BYU’s Connor Harding and Utah’s Jaxon Brenchley battle for a ball on Dec. 11, 2020 at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.
BYU Photo

Having most of their best nonconference games canceled because of pandemic-related issues, the Utah Runnin’ Utes desperately needed a resume-building nonconference win on Saturday against the only team that could provide such a lift: heated rival BYU.

They didn’t come close to getting it.

Succumbing to the Cougars’ considerable advantage inside and in the rebounding department, the Utes were buried 82-64 at the Marriott Center in front of a small crowd of family members and friends of both teams.

“At the end of the day what really hurt us was being outrebounded by 16 (44-28),” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “We got a number of stops. Our defense wasn’t that poor.”

Maybe not, but the Cougars (6-2) shot 55% from the floor and 39% from the 3-point line, while Utah was a frosty 36% from the field.

The Utes (2-1) were in it early and had a five-point lead eight minutes into the game before the wheels started to come off.

“We gotta make more points than they do,” Krystkowiak said. “I really liked the fact that we came in, we looked like a well-oiled machine, we were dialed in, rebounding. Then we just had some breakdowns.”

Utah’s stars in last year’s 102-95 overtime win at the Huntsman Center — junior Timmy Allen and sophomore Rylan Jones — struggled in the Utes’ first road game of the season. Allen was 3 of 11 for nine points — he did have five assists — while Jones was 2 of 10 for five points before fouling out.

Those two combined for 52 points last year.

“They struggled because it is called college basketball,” Krystkowiak said. “… They struggled because it was a pretty good game plan from the other team.”

Utah’s plan was to take away BYU’s stars, and it was pretty good at that. BYU’s leading scorer, Alex Barcello (19.2 ppg.) had a season-low five points, and 7-foot-3 Purdue transfer Matt Haarms had just seven.

But guys such as Spencer Johnson (16), Connor Harding (17) and Richard Harward (15) stepped up in a big way for BYU. Utah got 14 points from Riley Battin off the bench, but not much else.

Alfonso Plummer led the Utes with 19 points.

Caleb Lohner, the freshman who signed with Utah in 2019 and then was released of his NLI by Krystkowiak last summer, led the Cougars with 10 rebounds. He also had eight points and made a big dunk in garbage time.

“When we cut the lead to seven in the second half, we got killed on the boards the next five minutes,” Battin said.

BYU now leads the series 132-129 and Krystkowiak’s record against the Cougars dropped to 4-5. BYU has won 14 of the last 19 and five of the last seven.

Although there were only a 100 or so spectators, Krystkowiak said it still felt like a rivalry game and the Utes treated it as such. He mentioned that BYU was playing its eighth game, and the Utes their third, and that wasn’t optimal for the visitors.

“I watched BYU play (seven) games on tape, and the teams that beat them (USC and Boise State) made a bunch of open shots,” Krystkowiak said.

Utah didn’t, after a decent start.

Mikael Jantunen, who had 18 points against BYU last year, got off to a strong offensive start with a couple 3-pointers and a steal and layup in the first six minutes. Allen’s only point of the first half, a free throw, gave Utah a 14-9 lead and it appeared the Utes had settled in.

Utah made just one basket in an 11-possession stretch, a follow by Battin, and the Cougars surged ahead. About the only positive stat for the Utes in the first half: nine second-chance points.

Plummer hit a couple long 3-pointers in the last seven minutes of the half — while also throwing up some wild shots — and Utah stayed reasonably close. But Krystkowiak wasn’t happy with shot selection at the end of the first half, a drought that enabled BYU to take a 40-27 lead at the break.

“We got selfish to finish the half,” Krystkowiak said.

In the second half, Battin’s 3-pointer with 13:45 remaining cut BYU’s lead to 51-44, but Barcello hit a 3 after an offensive rebound, and the Cougars rolled from there.

“It is an elite-level game and I think it is fun for our guys. It is fun for our coaches. This is what you signed up for,” Krystkowiak said.

Especially when you need a big nonconference win.