One of the big questions hovering over Saturday night's Utah-BYU game was how well the Utes would cope without Paul Afeaki, the victim of a freak shooting incident two nights earlier.
The answer? Very well, thank you.Walter Watts played 27 minutes, six more than usual and scored 13 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Larry Cain, playing for only the second time in 12 games, produced a key three-point play just before the half. And walk-on Sean Mooney played his usual bulldog defense against BYU's big men for four minutes.
Afterwards, Ute players hoisted the 6-foot-10 Afeaki up onto their shoulders and allowed him to help cut down the net with his free hand.
"The guys were so happy for Paul to be here tonight," said Majerus, who added with a laugh, "He's probably the only guy in the country with a 'DNP (did not play) because of bullet wound."'
Majerus said Afeaki remains under 24-hour guard and he is being kept away from the press. But a half hour after the game, Afeaki could be seen signing autographs near the Ute tunnel with his usual big smile on his face.
"We turned it into a positive thing," said Majerus of the unfortunate shooting incident. "(U. of U. President) Chase Peterson came to practice yesterday and said `let's make this a positive thing' and we did."
For the 6-8, 260-pound Watts, the win was especially sweet because it was his final home game and his parents were in town from San Jose.
He said his strategy against 7-6 Shawn Bradley was to "go at him hard." And it worked pretty well as Watts had just one of his shots rejected by the big guy.
"I knew I had to go up strong every time," said Watts, whose best shots were a dunk over Bradley in the first half and a twisting flip shot under the basket early in the second half.
Cain, the ex-Ben Lomond star who had played only 44 minutes all season before Saturday, was under pressure as Watts' replacement. He hadn't even scored since a Dec. 22 game against Wichita State.
"I was a little nervous," he admitted. "My mentality had to change from maybe I'd get a chance to play to knowing I'd have to play."
Cain first entered the game with 13:24 left in the first half and he immediately tried to shoot over Bradley only to have it rejected in his face.
"I went right at him and found out he was really 7-foot-6 like they say," said Cain.But later in the half, Cain came through with a couple of key offensive boards, including a put-back with 1.1 seconds left. He was also fouled and his three-point play gave the Utes a 10-point lead halftime lead.
"Larry was sensational," said Majerus. "I told him to be ready at all times and he was tonight."
Majerus said he felt bad when he couldn't take Cain on an earlier trip to Laramie. But he said Cain came up with a textbook answer. "I don't want you to give up on me coach," was Cain's reply and he proved himself Saturday.
"Larry's a real smart kid and someday he may cure cancer," said Majerus. "But he'll never have a moment like he did tonight."