PROVO Just like the solar system aligned in North America's evening skies Wednesday for a rare lunar eclipse, the University of Utah was hoping the basketball planets might similarly align so the Utes could end an extended Cougar homecourt winning streak for the second time in five seasons.
And those Cougar-streak-busting planets seemed to align for a good share of the game, too, with Utah trailing by just two points midway through the second half, by one point with under six minutes to play and by just three points several times in the final two minutes.
Meanwhile, BYU starting guards Ben Murdock and Sam Burgess were going scoreless for most of the game before settling for Murdock's late five points. Center Trent Plaisted and Co. were struggling inside as well as at the free-throw line, and the Cougars shooting a sub-40 percent from the floor were showing only a shell of their run-gun-and-giggle selves from last weekend's home rout over UNLV.
But just as cloud-cover ruined the Wasatch Front's view of Wednesday night's lunar eclipse, the host Cougars held on to hold off the Utes as BYU's 67-59 victory made for the team's 45th consecutive victory at the Marriott Center.
Talk about your home-sweet-home-win streak it's not only a new program-best for BYU but extends the Cougars' claim on the nation's second-longest current streak for home victories.
Top-ranked Memphis is tops with a string of 47 straight, but the Tigers play host Saturday to second-ranked Tennessee in this season's biggest challenge to their home record at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.
Back to BYU, Utah and the Marriott Center you remember, the same threesome featured in the Jan. 16, 2003, matchup that ended the Cougars' previous program-best 44-win streak, a 79-75 Ute victory in which assistant coach Kerry Rupp filled in for an absent Rick Majerus.
In that game, Utah reserve guard Marc Jackson scored 11 of his team-high 17 points in the game's final 6:34 and sank all 13 of his free throws, while Tim Frost added 16 points, Nick Jacobson 13 and Britton Johnsen 12 more points and as many rebounds.
The Cougars countered unsuccessfully with Travis Hansen's 21 points, Rafael Araujo's 19 and Mark Bigelow's 16 as BYU suffered its first home loss since Feb. 19, 2000.
But Wednesday night before a near-capacity crowd of 19,460, BYU would have none of that deja vu in the Deseret Duel, as Jonathan Tavernari tallied a game-high 20 points, with Lee Cummard adding 14 points, a game-best 11 rebounds and stifling defense on Utah standout Johnnie Bryant who still finished with a Utah-high 15 points. And Jimmer Fredette came off the bench to contribute a much-need 14 points.
And so the Marriott Center magic continues the Cougars are perfect at home through 45 games since suffering a November 2005 season-opening loss to Loyola-Marymount.Ironically, it came in Dave Rose's debut as BYU's head basketball coach.
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