It wasn't pretty. Both teams fought hard. But Saturday's 2008 edition of the BYU-Utah basketball rivalry was a contest that screamed for someone, anyone to step up and deliver a big play.
Luke Nevill and Luka Drca were on their way to completing that chore for Utah. But Cougars Sam Burgess and Lee Cummard ended up with the nail gun.
Burgess buried a killer 3-pointer at the 2:32 mark to break a 50-50 tie cemented by a flurry of shots by Nevill and Drca that had erased a seven-point BYU lead.
Cummard simply became a pack animal for the Cougars for 40 minutes in a game in which their MWC-leading offense could not find any rhythm.
"It was kind of funny, we both know each other's teams so well," said Cummard. "They were taking us out of our stuff and we were taking them out of their stuff."
With three seconds left in BYU's 55-52 win over Utah in the Jon Huntsman Center, Cummard went to the foul line with the Cougars up by one point.
Etched in his mind were his missed front-end charity tosses against UNLV in the MWC Tournament last March in Las Vegas, and a similar miss against Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Lexington, Ky., the following week. Both shots haunted him all summer and fall.
Cummard wasn't going to repeat those disappointing performances Saturday. Not with the luggage he'd been hoisting all day long. Cummard converted both tries to give BYU its eventual three-point margin of victory.
Coach Dave Rose, who stood on the sidelines watching Cummard's free throws, became the first BYU coach to achieve back-to-back wins at the Huntsman since BYU's squads did so in 1984 and '85. He can think the skinny junior. Pound for pound, Cummard delivered tonnage for Rose.
On an afternoon two of BYU's leading scorers, Trent Plaisted (2-for-11) and Jonathan Tavernari (0-for-6) struggled, Cougar play-caller Dave Rice made the decision he had to find a consistent offensive threat in the game, and he called Cummard's number.
Rice made Cummard BYU's first option and called on No. 30 repeatedly. And he delivered.
Cummard finished with a game-high 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting. He made all seven of his free throws, grabbed 9 rebounds tied with Utah's Shaun Green for game-high honors and had two of BYU's five steals.
But a poll of most of the Cougars' roster called Burgess' 3-point, tie-breaking bomb from the right corner of the floor the shot they'll remember most from this emotional fray.
"They called a few more plays for me today," said Cummard. "But this was a team win. We played hard on defense, but nothing was bigger than that three by Sam in the corner."
The Cougars led Utah 48-41 on a trey by freshman Jimmer Fredette and looked comfortable for the first time in the game with 8:38 to play. But the Cougars would fail to score again in the next three minutes, as Nevill led a 9-2 run and Drca tied the game at 50 on a driving runner.
It was an out-of-bounds set play call which called for Burgess to come off a screen that would lead to Cummard coming right behind him, to get the ball and shoot.
But as the play developed, Burgess saw Utah's defenders had read it cleanly and were all prepared, and they began shifting defenders toward Cummard.
"Luckily Ben (Murdock) saw me. I got the ball, I just turned and fired, didn't even think about it." said Burgess.
"It looked like it was off line when it was in the air," said freshman guard Michael Loyd, who was on the bench, standing and eyeballing the shot. "I didn't think it was going in, but then it kind of curved and went right down the net."
For Burgess, it was like crawling out of a deep, dark, long tunnel. He'd gone 0-for-5 in a humbling loss at UNLV, 1-for-5 against CSU and just 1-for-3 at Wake Forest. Burgess, like most of BYU's sharpshooters, was hip-deep in a shooter's funk.
It took BYU 24 minutes to make a 3-point shot against Utah this from a team that averages 77.2 points a game and 8.4 three-point buckets a game. They got just three in this game The first was a make by Burgess. Again, he broke a tie, this one at 30.
"Eventually, they're going to go in," said Burgess, who bemoaned his recent shooting slump.
Check that. Everybody's shooting slump.
"It's surprising, because we have so many good shooters," said Burgess."But that's OK, it just proved we can have an off-shooting night and win on a place like this on the road."
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