SALT LAKE CITY —
Pretty plays in Saturday's matinee edition of BYU-Utah were well hidden in the Huntsman Center.
In a season where we only get one shot at this series, this one was tough on the blinkers.
It was circus-act ugly. Utah took the air out of the ball to avoid a blowout at home and BYU couldn't find the bucket consistently for 15 minutes. Like witnessing cattle give birth.
In the end, BYU's experience and consistency won out.
"We knew it would be a grind-it-out kind of game," said Cougar senior forward Noah Hartsock, who led all scorers with 19 points. "I'd expect nothing else in this rivalry."
The Cougars won 61-42. It was the lowest Utah scoring output since 1976 before the NCAA adopted the shot clock. It took us back to the days Jim Brandenburg at Wyoming all but extracted all the air out of the basketball.
The slow down is a ploy Larry Krystowiak used to avoid separation. As the Pac-12 season looms ahead, it may have been a wise move to roll out and polish the next two games with Portland and Weber State before facing designated league rival Colorado.
For Dave Rose, it was his 10th win over Utah in the last 11 tries.
Two statistics stood out in BYU's win that lifted the Cougars to 8-1 while Utah slipped to 1-8.
BYU's 19 field goals came on 15 assists. Utah's triggered its 14 field goals by just six assists.
A second key stat would be impact of 3-point accuracy. The Cougars made 9 of 27 (33 percent) while the Utes, who were driving full speed most of the time, managed 3 of 17 (17 percent). In a 19-point win, just the treys gave BYU an 18-point advantage.
Both teams tried to choreograph a system to win. Utah milked the shot clock, shortened the game, played a little like Air Force, except for makes before the buzzer. BYU tried to run, but failed to get going with its post play and outside shots for the first 15 minutes.
BYU had a system of setting up shooters that ultimately prevailed over Utah's desperation drive shots and kick passes that sometimes sailed harmlessly out of bounds.
For the victors, Rose got an interesting boost from junior transfer guard Craig Cusick. Fresh off a career-high eight-assist effort in a 94-66 win over Weber State, it was Cusick, not starting point guard Anson Winder, who settled the Cougars into a rhythm.
Cusick scored 10 points, knocked down 2 of 4 three-point attempts and had a game-high six assists. When BYU looked rudderless, Cusick took control.
BYU's guard deal will be front and center starting Monday.
Cusick and Winder will receive an interesting challenge next Saturday against No. 6 Baylor when UCLA transfer Matt Carlino becomes eligible to start his freshman season. The pie that is point guard minutes will be sliced and even more divided.
Winder's first three shots were shaky and his fourth barely drew iron. He was 0-for-5 from the field in 12 minutes before yielding to Cusick shortly after halftime with no assists.
If BYU's showing at Utah showed anything to Rose in the post-Jimmer/Jackson Emery era, it is just how key it is to have level-headed point guard play.
When Cusick took the wheel, BYU's offensive efficiency rose.
"It will come down to who is playing well and what is needed," said Cusick, once a walk-on at Utah.
"I came in with an extra, added focus," said Cusick. "It's always a great opportunity to come back and play at a place where you used to be."
Hartsock credited Utah with speeding up their inside game with double teams and getting very physical. It took a real adjustment to get things going, he said, showing a blossoming black left eye from an elbow.
"I'll need a little makeup to cover it up," he said.
Hartsock said the Cougars are improving every game as rookies figure out their roles.
"Matt Carlino has practiced with us every day, so we are very used to him," said the Cougar captain.
"Since Cusick walked on at Utah and came here after his mission, he's done a great job. He's been like that all season, to come in and be an emotional leader, and knock down open shots."
Utah, said Krystowiak, left the floor knowing the Utes played hard, played tough and elevated effort.
Still, it was a blowout, albeit, a low-scoring, glamorless take down.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company