PROVO — An intense atmosphere. Plenty of physical play. A nail-biting finish. A potential game-tying shot that bounces off the rim at the buzzer.
For the first time in a long time, it felt like old times. It felt like a basketball rivalry again.
BYU rallied from a 12-point first-half deficit to defeat Utah, 61-58, Saturday night before a crowd of 16,109 at the Marriott Center.
"It was a war out there, a battle right to the very end," Cougar guard Tyler Haws said. "We're so happy we got the win."
Haws, who finished with 14 points, scored BYU's final three points from the free-throw line, including two with 16.7 seconds remaining in the game, to lift the Cougars (6-3) to a 61-58 advantage.
The Utes (6-3) had a few chances to force overtime — including Justin Seymour's 3-point attempt that just missed at the buzzer, triggering a deafening cheer from relieved Cougar fans.
"That's a good win. That is a really good win for our team," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "Every win is a good win, but some are more special than others … It was a slugfest."
BYU has now won 11 of the last 12 games against Utah, including seven in a row.
"We knew it was going to be a battle. It always is," Haws said. "I'm happy with the way our guys responded — battling to the very end."
Of course, the Cougars wouldn't have even been in position to win if not for the play of guard Matt Carlino, who came off the bench and scored a game-high 19 points, including 5-of-10 from 3-point territory, and dished out five assists. Going into the game, Carlino had made just 3-of-22 from behind the arc this season.
During one stretch, Carlino buried back-to-back 3s — the second one tied the game at 52 with just under five minutes left.
"We know that Matt's a really good shooter," Rose said. "He hasn't shot the ball the way he likes to this season. I just believe that things will work out. The five he hit tonight were all needed. Every one."
Utah's defensive focus was on Haws, and it worked in the first half as he made just one field goal.
"They had a box-and-one going," Haws said. "We hadn't seen that this year and they kind of caught us off-guard. But eventually we figured it out and guys stepped up and hit shots."
Haws hit just 2-of-10 shots from the field on the night, but he knocked down all 10 of his free-throw attempts.
"These guys were really physical with him," Rose said. "This was a really good night for Ty to figure out how he's going to be played and how he can still be really effective. He was a big part of us winning this game."
Trailing 35-26 at halftime, BYU switched to a zone defense that played a big role in its comeback.
"Our zone was really good for us in the second half, making them hit tough (shots)," Haws said.
"In the second half I think the zone affected us a little bit, but still at the end of the day, reviewing a lot of the plays, you know we did have some answers. We had some open looks — we didn't make them," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said.
The Utes didn't make a field goal over the final seven minutes of the game.
"I really think, as complicated as it might be, even basketball comes down to us hitting one of those threes or one of those twos at any point and it changes the complexion of the game," Krystkowiak said.
Down by three points with four seconds remaining, the Utes had the ball near midcourt. BYU coaches chose not to foul Utah intentionally, and it paid off as Seymour's 3-pointer fell just short as time ran out.
"We were just saying, 'Don't let them get a 3,'" Carlino said. "We kept repeating that. I'm thankful that they didn't. … Once it didn't (go in), you're so relieved. It was such a win, beating them. It was awesome."
"We talked about it during two different timeouts," Rose said of his strategy. "We wanted to see if we could put enough pressure on them and not worry about fouling them intentionally. … We kind of forced them into a pretty difficult shot. But you look at the replay and it could have gone in. He was falling away, he was going out of bounds, but the ball still got pretty close."
The Cougars were impressed with the Utes.
"They've been playing really well," Haws said. "They're a different team than they were last year. We had to keep fighting even though we got down early. We kept fighting the whole game."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company