His name is Josh Grant, but his teammates call him The Franchise, and if you had seen Monday night's Weber State-Utah showdown in the Huntsman Center, you'd fully understand the reasons.
With practically a single blow, Grant turned an entire game around. He slammed home a rebound - partly to avoid his coach's wrath - that both tied the score and turned the tide. The game was never the same again, and the surprising Utes claimed another win, this time 68-52.For some 27 minutes, this was a raging dogfight, and the underdog Wildcats, using a bit of defensive trickery, were in charge. They led by five points in the first half, by four at halftime (25-21), by eight in the second half.
Enter Grant. First, he buried a trey to begin the rally, then he pulled off the Play of the Night (Year?) to reignite it. Lights, please, roll the highlight film. With 13 minutes to play and Utah trailing by two points, Barry Howard rebounded a missed shot and put it back up from the left side of the hoop. The shot missed, and the ball bounced off the rim to the right, where it hung for a split second, just long enough for Grant to grab it in midflight and jam it, tomahawk-style, in one fluid motion.
"I was standing at the top of the key and saw Barry go up with the shot," said Grant. "I read where (the ball) was going to come off and saw an open lane. I thought I'd better go there or Coach would scream at me. The ball came off nice. I don't think a lob could go up any better."
The crowd - 11,233 strong - and the Utes responded to the play, and, just like that, the game had turned.
"A very big play," said Utah coach Rick Majerus.
"No question about it," said Weber coach Denny Huston. "That play ignited the club."
"I was underneath the basket when he did it," said teammate Craig Rydalch. "I thought, Omigosh! It had a great effect on the game. That's when I knew they wouldn't come back."
And they didn't. Moments later, Grant, taking a nifty pass from Rydalch, scored again to give Utah a 39-37 lead. The Wildcats tied the game at 41, but the Utes quickly took charge again and were pulling away when Huston decided to do something about it.
With 8:11 to play and his team down 47-43, he intentionally drew a technical while arguing a referee's foul call. M'Kay McGrath made two foul shots, Grant made one of two technicals, and, on the resulting possession, scored on a layup to complete a five-point play.
"I earned the technical," said Huston. "I felt it was time to address the officials, to get their attention. It was premeditated." Asked if the technical turned the game, Huston shook his head emphatically; Grant and his dunk had already done that.
"I hope we don't play against a better player than Josh Grant," he said. "He is a go-to-it guy. He can score from anywhere."
"You've got to expect plays like that from Josh," said Rydalch, referring to The Dunk. "That's why we call him The Franchise."
On a night when his teammates shot 40 percent from the field and none of them cracked double scoring figures, Grant finished with 19 points (on 7-of-14 shooting), 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 blocks and 1 steal - in other words, an average night for him.
"He did a lot of things tonight that don't show up in the stats," said Majerus, who also noted, "That was his best game since I've been coaching him. He was a warrior."
Monday's victory, by the way, left Utah with an 8-1 record heading into Wednesday night's game against Morehead State. In the meantime, Weber, forced to play its second game without injured center Anthony McGowan, is 2-4.
But for at least the first half, the Wildcats outplayed the Utes. Huston employed a triangle-and-two defense, which all but ignored two Ute players - Tyrone Tate and M'Kay McGrath - while tying up Grant and Byron Wilson with man coverage and center Walter Watts with double coverage.
"They kept changing up defenses, and it really screwed us up," said Grant, putting it mildly. After shooting 55 percent for two weeks and four games, the Utes made a cool 9 of 33 shots in the first half, and six of those baskets were layups or dunks (and five of the misses were airballs). Trailing 11-4, the Wildcats made a 16-4 run during the next 11 minutes to go up 20-15 late in the first half.
"You can only go so far with gimmick defenses," said Huston.
In the second half, Majerus countered the gimmick by placing McGrath and Tate on opposite sides of the key at the foul line, making it impossible for one man to cover them both. That forced the Wildcats to abandon the defense, and Grant, who had 14 second-half points, was freer to roam the court.
Majerus made one other adjustment in the second half: he benched his centers, Watts and Paul Afeaki, who had 10 points and 27 minutes between them. "There were matchup problems going on the perimeter to cover," said Majerus.
Instead, Majerus went deeper into his bench, for Howard and Soto. The move paid off. Howard played just eight minutes, all in the second half, but had five points and two boards to show for it. Soto had nine points and five assists, all in the second half.
For the Wildcats, Al Hamilton, Jason Joe and David Baldwin scored 14 points each, but on this night it wasn't nearly enough.