All that talk about the mediocre records and lack of excitement went out the window in a hurry Thursday night at the Huntsman Center, where Utah and BYU staged an old-fashioned run-and-gun duel before the Utes finally prevailed 90-86.
The victory erased the embarrassment of the 10-point loss to Air Force a week earlier as the Utes raised their WAC record to 4-4 and overall mark to 13-10. BYU, on its way to Miami for a Saturday night game, fell to 3-5 and 9-9.While the story of Thursday's game might have been the outstanding play of Ute freshman Josh Grant or the suddenly up-tempo style of the Utes or the great comeback by the Cougars, the final two minutes were the key.
It turns out that confusion reigned on both sides during those final two minutes. BYU tried to work a play for the go-ahead basket to their star player, who didn't even know what the play was. Meanwhile, at the other end, Utah's Jimmy Madison made what turned out to be the winning shot without even realizing what the score was.
Here's how it went in those final frantic two minutes: After Utah had tied the score at 86-86 on a Mitch Smith jumper with 2:12 left, BYU called time out, presumably to set up a play.
The Cougars worked the ball around the perimeter and finally found their money man, Michael Smith, on the baseline with 10 seconds left on the shot clock and 1:35 overall. Madison knocked the ball away from Smith briefly, but Smith recovered and started out toward the top of the key. With the BYU bench yelling reminders about the shot clock, Smith suddenly stopped, put a move on Madison and fired up a forced shot from a couple of feet beyond the three-point line with three ticks on the shot clock.
The shot missed and Utah's Mark Lenoir grabbed the rebound, hit Josh Grant, who in turn quickly hit Madison on the left baseline. Madison spun to his right and with Smith's hand right in his face, sank the 12-footer.
Now let's hear . . . the rrrrest of the story.
"I remember coming out of the huddle being very confused as to what we were going to do. I remember turning to Marty (Haws) and saying, `What play are we running?' " said Smith. "It turned out we were all out of position. I should have been in the post for the play and ended up on the wing. The shot clock was running down, so I tried to throw one up there . . . I still should have made it."
BYU Coach Ladell Andersen, when asked about the play afterward, couldn't recall what specific play was called for Smith. "We work a lot of plays for Smith. I don't remember which one it was exactly. Usually, if you get it in his hands, he'll score."
As for Madison, he thought his 12-foot baseline jumper had put his team up by four or six points. When told in the locker room that it gave the Utes a two-point lead, he said, "I didn't even know what the score was at the time."
But he was plenty glad he took the shot without hesitating. If he had known it was a tie game, who knows, maybe he wouldn't have shot it.
"Usually if I hesitate, it goes off and I miss it. I'd rather turn and go right up. I might as well shoot it," he said.
Might as well, especially if it wins the game for your team.
Actually, Madison's shot came with 1:15 left so there was still plenty of time left for BYU to come back. The Cougars worked the ball inside to freshman John Fish, who was playing because Andy Toolson had fouled out. As Fish turned toward the basket, he was stripped by Utah's Smith.
Utah then worked the clock down to 34 seconds when Grant, seemingly trapped in the corner, found Jon Hansen streaking all alone in the lane for a layup to make it 90-86. Haws came down and had his shot blocked by Grant, and after Lenoir missed a foul shot with 12 seconds left, Haws missed a three-pointer.
"You'll never know how important this game was for us," said a relieved Ute Coach Lynn Archibald, who had to be feeling some extra pressure after last week's disappointing loss to Air Force. "This game was important because it gives us momentum and confidence, puts us even in the WAC and also gives us the Oquirrh Bucket."
Oh yeah, lost in all the hoopla over the game was the Old Oquirrh Bucket, given to the top in-state team. Utah clinched the Bucket, improving to 4-0 against in-state competition. But that was actually a minor consideration to the Utes, who desperately needed a victory heading into the final stretch of their schedule.
Grant, who had struggled in his last three games due to a lingering case of the flu, had his finest game as a Ute with a career-high 24 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and four blocked shots.
Utah's Smith had 20 points and nine rebounds, while Madison and Singletary had 12 apiece, Madison on perfect 5-for-5 shooting. Lenoir and Hansen each added 11.
For BYU, Smith scored 21, but it came on 7-for-20 shooting as he was dogged all night by Singletary and Madison. Haws also had a tough shooting night with 5 of 15, including 0 for 5 from three-point range, but he did finish with 17. Schreiner had 15, while Toolson and Fish each had 10.
For the game, Utah shot 51 percent to BYU's 47 percent and had five more field goals. BYU stayed in the game thanks to its excellent 91 percent foul shooting (28 of 31).
The first half was all Utah's as the Utes jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead on a rare three-pointer by Singletary. The lead stayed around seven most of the time, although the Utes went up by 10 at 44-34 on a three-pointer by Lenoir with 4:30 left. After that basket, the Utes went into one of their fiedl-goal slumps, not scoring a basket until Smith tipped in Lenoir's miss at the buzzer to make it 52-45.
In the second half, the utes appeared on the verge of breaking away when they moved out to their largest lead at 62-50 on a madison layup with 16:41 left.