Whoa, this is getting serious. The University of Utah's fast start has been dismissed by some as the result of weak opponents and few road games, but now this: On Thursday night the Utes opened Western Athletic Conference play against a good University of Hawaii team in Honolulu and won 63-60 in overtime.
It was the Utes' ninth consecutive victory and their 12th win in 13 games this season.And unlike so many of their games, the victory didn't come easily. Utah's best player, Josh Grant, was forced to play much of the second half with four fouls, and starting guard Byron Wilson was sidelined for more than half the game after being undercut and falling hard to the court.
Trailing almost the entire night - by 14 points on several occasions - the Rainbows rallied to take a three-point lead with just over one minute left in regulation. The Utes managed to tie the game 52-all on a bucket by Grant with 12 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. The Utes twice protected a one-point lead in the final seconds of overtime, first on a rebound bucket by Walter Watts with 38 seconds remaining and then on a pair of free throws by Tyrone Tate with three seconds left.
"Our guys really rose to the occasion," said Utah coach Rick Majerus, who was coaching his first WAC game. "That was a great college game. It's too bad it wasn't televised back home. Nobody could be faulted down the stretch. We really gave it all we had. Our effort was superb. The players are so high now to come back and win in overtime like that."
Hawaii, 8-4, had won five consecutive games, beating, among others, Iona, Wichita State and 11th-ranked Pitt. The 'Bows also had won 15 of their previous 16 WAC home games, dating back to last season.
But Utah, which has beaten Hawaii in 17 of their last 20 meetings, seems to have the Rainbows' number.
The Utes took a 24-10 lead midway through the first half and showed no signs of letting up, but there were casualties. Wilson was leaping for a sure breakaway dunk when he was undercut by Phil Lott. After laying on the court for several minutes, Wilson was able to limp off the court, but he never played again.
Grant finished with 17 points, Watts 10, Phil Dixon 9, M'Kay McGrath 8. Chris Walz had 18 points and Reed 17.