In the Huntsman Center offices after the game, Utah athletic director Chris Hill was taking in some air. At last. Two hours of holding your breath is a long time. But finally the 69-60 win over BYU was in place.
"They're never easy," said Hill. "Doesn't matter what the records are, when Utah and BYU play, they're never easy."
You could have fooled me. For Ute center Andrew Bogut, it was way too easy. Twenty-six points, 13 rebounds, three-steals-and-a-block type easy.
So easy, in fact, that I have to ask: Doesn't this guy need a bigger playground?
As Bogut's sophomore year wanes, it is more apparent each day that he's outgrown college basketball in general, and the Mountain West Conference in particular. Not only is he looking down at his competition literally, but figuratively, too. I half expect him to laugh when he sees people like BYU's Derek Dawes and Jared Jensen trying to guard him. That isn't a knock on Dawes or Jensen. It's just that Bogut is so, well, bogacious.
The Cougars did what they could. They put their biggest players on him, collapsed defensively and spent much of Saturday's game slapping and shoving the 7-foot Australian to no avail. He took what was offered in the early going, which amounted mostly to free throw.
But his contribution all afternoon was far from simply standing at the foul line.
He rebounds: The Utes went 11 1/2 minutes before scoring their second field goal, yet his seven boards were a major part in keeping them in the game.
He defends: Numerous times he closed off the baseline when BYU players drove for what would have been layups. He drew a charging foul or two. With 13 minutes left in the game, BYU's Chris Miles went low and faked a shot. Bogut didn't budge. He was as solid as the Washington Monument and twice as imposing. When Miles finally did go up, Bogut effortlessly swatted the shot anyway.
He scores: As if the block wasn't enough, Bogut followed shortly after with a 3-pointer, giving Utah a 10-point lead.
He runs: On an ensuing possession he led the fast break, scoring a layup and drawing a free throw, as the Utes went up by 12.
He passes: With under five minutes remaining, he delivered a perfect return on the give-and-go to Richard Chaney, who drew two free throws. Unlike many big men, a pass to Bogut doesn't mean the ball can't be returned to sender.
He leads: Bogut is far from your ordinary quiet big guy. In fact, he's neither terribly quiet nor ordinary. He drew a technical in the first half when BYU's Austin Ainge shoved Utah's Marc Jackson. Bogut seldom shows high emotion when hammered by opposing players. But don't mess with his teammates.
He learns: Last year Bogut would get flustered when the right opportunities didn't appear. Not anymore. He simply accepts his invitations.
"He plays slow," said Ute coach Ray Giacoletti. "He reads defenses and understands where his help is coming from. He can just do any number of things including knocking down the 3."
I asked Giacoletti how often he thought he'd get the chance to coach a player like Bogut.
"I, uh, probably . . . " began Giacoletti.
Then he stopped. A couple of seconds passed.
"Once," he said.
"You just try to enjoy it while you have him."
Bogut hasn't said publicly whether he'll enter the NBA Draft this year, but even Giacoletti acts as though it's a foregone conclusion.
Who could blame him? It would be silly to stay around another year to claim territory he has already usurped.
Is he ready for the next level?
"Definitely," said Bogut.
I told Giacoletti of a quote I saw about a dozen years ago from Don Nelson. At the time he was coaching a fairly large player named Victor Alexander at Golden State.
"The game is easy for Victor," said Nelson with clear admiration. "He plays it easy and he plays it well."
That's how it is with Bogut, too.
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