SALT LAKE CITY — Aside from in-state rivals BYU and Utah State, the Utah has played Wyoming more than any other school in its 100-plus years of basketball.
So there was no way the Utes wanted to finish on a losing note in the 170th overall and final regular-season game ever against their longtime rivals, particularly a Cowboy team they beat by 17 points last month.
Although the Cowboys were much more energetic than a month ago in Laramie, the Utes played well enough to take an 80-70 victory Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center.
With the victory, the Utes broke a five-game losing streak and improved to 11-15 overall and 4-8 in Mountain West Conference, while Wyoming dropped to 9-17 and 2-10.
"It's a big win for us," said Utah coach Jim Boylen, who has been under some pressure with recent newspaper stories and talk-radio shows questioning his future at the U. "I'm proud of this group and we've hung in there. Everybody knows it's difficult when you're in a losing streak, but these guys are resilient and they care. I'm really happy for them."
Chris Kupets came off the bench to lead the Utes with 20 points, while the Utes' two leading scorers, Will Clyburn and Josh Watkins, each scored 19. David Foster scored just four points, but pulled down a career-high 13 rebounds and had three blocked shots.
"Oh man it feels great to get the monkey off our back and get rolling," said Chris Kupets, who led the Utes with 20 points. "We want to practice as hard as we can for New Mexico (Saturday night in Albuquerque) and keep this thing going."
The two bugaboos for the Utes all season have been turnovers and free-throw shooting. They seemed to overcome both with 11 turnovers, the third lowest amount of the season and 23 of 32 from the line, including 18 of 19 during a stretch in the second half.
"We had just 11 turnovers against a pressing, trapping team," Boylen said. "We worked hard to break the press and not turn it over, and I'm proud of the guys for not turning it over."
In the pivotal second half, when they pulled away for the win, the Utes gave up the ball just three times.
Boylen was thrilled with the effort of Kupets, who made 6 of 11 from the field and 7 of 9 from the foul line.
"He's practiced so well and has carried it over to the game," said Boylen. "I thought he was locked in the whole game. Tonight was a big step for him as a leader on the floor."
"I've been more aggressive the last two games," Kupets said. "My team passed me the ball, and I got open."
The Utes took a 34-32 lead into halftime after scoring seven straight points to end the half as Kupets drove for a layup in the final seconds after Foster blocked a shot at the other end. Earlier Kupets knocked down a 15-footer before Watkins made a 3-pointer.
"The last three minutes of the first half were huge," Boylen. "That was a big spurt for us to not be down and not be climbing uphill."30 comments on this story
In the second half, Utah couldn't break away and the Cowboys came back to take a 58-57 lead with 7:55 left. But the Utes went on a 9-2 run capped by Shawn Glover's 3-pointer from the left angle, followed by another Glover jumper. Those were Glover's only two baskets of the night, but they were big.
Wyoming was led by Desmar Jackson, who scored 17 points before fouling out. Amath M'Baye scored 14, and freshman Joe Hudson scored a career-high 10 points.
UTE NOTES: Clyburn left the game for good with 10 minutes left with a "bottom of-the-foot issue" according to Boylen, who said he'd know more by Thursday about the extent of the injury. ... Led by M'Baye's 10 boards, Wyoming outrebounded Utah 37-33 after getting outboarded 47-29 in Laramie. ... Utah shot 52 percent from the field. ... Utah now holds 95-75 edge in the series, which won't continue on a regular basis. ... The announced attendance on the snowy night was 8,275.