PROVO — While most of the free world predicted that BYU would obliterate Utah on Saturday at the Marriott Center, Cougar guard Jackson Emery did not.
Although the Cougars are ranked No. 7 in the country, and although the Utes sit near the bottom of the Mountain West Conference standings, and although BYU stomped Utah by 25 points last month at the Huntsman Center, Emery expected a close, hard-fought rivalry battle.
And that's exactly what unfolded before a sellout crowd of 22,700 — which included Utah Jazz star Deron Williams.
Midway through the second half, the game was tied, 48-48, before BYU star Jimmer Fredette exploded for 12 consecutive points, and in the end, the Cougars clawed past the Utes, 72-59.
"Personally, I didn't think it would be blowout," said Emery, who scored 17 points and added five assists and six steals. "Utah's a very talented team and they're very well-coached. It was just a matter of time before they were going to put it together. We came out a little flat and they came out really strong. They played really hard. That's what I expected. That's a good team and that's a good win for us."
BYU improved to 24-2 overall and 10-1 in the MWC. Utah dropped to 10-15 and 3-8.
"It was a knock-down, drag-out game," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "Utah did a great job of controlling the pace of this game. For most of the game, it looked like a game that would be played in the 50s."
Fortunately for BYU, it had junior Charles Abouo, who scored 17 points in the first half and finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Before taking over the game with 12 straight points, Fredette had just eight points. He finished with a game-high 23 on 7-of-19 shooting from the floor.
With less than one minute remaining, referee Mike Reed implored Rose to take Fredette, who was clearly frustrated, out of the game.
"(Reed) just wanted to make sure the game ended on a positive note," Rose explained.
Fredette came off the floor to cheers from the BYU faithful. He was not made available after the game for interviews with the media.
"I think Jimmer came out a little surprised at what (the Utes) were doing to him (defensively)," Emery said. "The thing with Jimmer is, every game he has to figure out how teams are going to defend him. Today, it took a little longer than usual. But once he figured out how to score, he was really good in his spurts. That's what makes Jimmer such a good player. He's able to identify the defense and figure out how to break them. As a team, we have to do the same thing, figure out how they're going to guard Jimmer."
Rose was impressed with the way Fredette willed himself to score late in the second half.
"When you receive the attention for 40 minutes like (Fredette) does, and for him to continue to force the issue like he does and not only make plays for himself but also for his teammates ... he's a relentless scorer," Rose said. "He continually puts pressure on the defense to guard him. When they do — and Utah did a good job of guarding him — Charles having 22 points is a direct result of how they wanted to guard Jimmer."
Utah coach Jim Boylen's game plan for Fredette was successful for much of the contest.
"I felt if we could hold Fredette to 12 points each half, then we could manage this game," he said. "I knew that if we controlled the pace of this game, it would be to our advantage. I feel like we did that, however, we had a lot of turnovers (17) and they played great zone defense."
As usual, BYU relied on its transition game to make the difference. While Utah slowed the pace down, the Cougars tried scoring quickly after rebounds and turnovers. BYU outscored the Utes 22-10 off turnovers and 18-0 off fast-break points.
"That's kind of our whole style — get up and go," Emery said. "Utah did a really good job of slowing the tempo down at times and making us play defense for long periods of time. We just tried to push it."
BYU's next game is Saturday at TCU. Utah hosts Wyoming on Wednesday.