Terrific, terrific. Short of a couple of breakdowns, he was dialed in. His energy and deflections made things really hard. He’s obviously not a big guy, but he’s got a really big heart and it means a lot for him to defend. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, on Brandon Taylor
SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah’s top defensive player, 5-10 sophomore guard Brandon Taylor is usually assigned to guard the opponent’s top player. On Saturday afternoon, that happened to be Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson, a 6-4 senior guard who leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 21.5 ppg.
How did Taylor do?
Well, first let’s talk about his offense. Taylor had a career night, scoring a career-high 23 points with a career-high five 3-pointers on six attempts while dishing out a career-high eight assists in the Utes’ 80-69 victory over the Beavers.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said it was the best game Taylor has played for the Utes offensively, but also couldn’t say enough about his defense, which helped hold Nelson to five points — well below his season average.
“Terrific, terrific,’’ said coach Larry Krystkowiak about Taylor’s defense. “Short of a couple of breakdowns, he was dialed in. His energy and deflections made things really hard. He’s obviously not a big guy, but he’s got a really big heart and it means a lot for him to defend.’’
Krystkowiak called Nelson “the head of the snake’’ in OSU’s offense and said the Utes particularly wanted to limit his touches on offense. That allowed some other players, such as Hallice Cook (4 of 8) and Langston Morris-Walker (3 of 4), to get loose for open 3-pointers, but the Utes forced the Beavers into 15 turnovers, including four by Nelson.
Taylor was up to the task of covering Nelson, and also made him work at the other end.
“Man, he ran me all over the court, ran me off of screens and did a really good job of changing the pace,’’ Taylor said. “But I wasn’t too tired. That’s my conditioning, and I was ready to run him all over the court at the other end and knock some shots down.''
In crunch time, “about the time my heart was coming up in my throat," said Krystkowiak, it was Taylor who made the difference for the Utes.
The Beavers had cut a 16-point Ute lead to three at 63-60 with 6:28 left when Taylor came up with big plays on the next four possessions to quickly gave the Utes a double-digit lead again.
As the shot clock was winding down, Taylor faked a 3-pointer, dribbled to the free-throw line and hit a 15-footer just as the shot clock went off. Then after a missed OSU shot, Taylor snagged the rebound and went down and sank a 3-pointer from the left angle to push the lead to 68-60.
Next, Taylor made a steal that led to a basket by Jeremy Olsen, and on the following possession, Olsen scored again off an assist by — who else? — Taylor.
“That was Brandon,’’ Krystkowiak said of the 9-0 run that put the game away. “I could lie to you and say I drew up all sorts of fancy stuff and created all this magic. Brandon just had this look in his eye. He’s got some moxie to him and obviously has a lot of courage to step in those situations. At the end of the day, Brandon was the one who got us going again.’’
UTE NOTES: Olsen got his first start of the season in place of Renan Lenz and finished with a career-high 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. ... After his 11-point, 12-rebound performance against Oregon, Dallin Bachynski was plagued with foul trouble and went scoreless in 15 minutes. ... Besides 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Delon Wright had three blocked shots after getting four in Thursday’s game. ... The Utes will play Wednesday night at Washington in Seattle, fly home the next day, then charter a plane Saturday to play at Washington State. They'll return after Sunday’s game to let players get ready for the start of classes Monday.