SALT LAKE CITY – It wasn’t just Megan Huff’s physical toughness that was on display in Utah’s win over BYU Saturday.
It was her mental fortitude.
Recovering from an illness, the senior forward struggled mightily in the first half, only to dominate the paint in the second half, scoring 24 of her 28 points in the Utes' 78-67 victory over their rivals in front of 6,106 fans at the Huntsman Center.
“I came into the game, and I was not feeling well,” she said. “I was sick, foggy.”
Utah coach Lynne Roberts added, “and then adrenaline kicks in.”
Huff’s performance drew praise from her teammates, coaches and BYU head coach Jeff Judkins.
“When Huff graduates, they’ll miss (her),” he said. “The kid is a competitor, tough, and she sets the tone for everybody. I mean, she had (four) points in the first half, and then gets (28). She’s a great player.”
Huff wasn’t the only Utah player who struggled offensively in the first half. In fact, Utah was 14-for-37 with a shooting percentage of about .37. It was the team’s freshman forward, Dre’Una Edwards, and redshirt freshman Dru Gylten, who carried them in the first half. Edwards led in scoring with 10 points, and she had eight offensive boards in the first half.
“That’s insane,” Roberts said, noting the seniors were struggling but the freshmen weren't. “I thought Dru (Gylten) had a fantastic game.”
Gylten opened the game with back-to-back threes and went on to score 17 points, while earning eight assists. Her passing ability was jaw-dropping and only added to the confidence Utah’s post players felt as the game progressed.
“I could care less about how many points I score in a game,” she said. “I love passing, and I have great teammates who knock down shots. It’s just fun that way.” The teams were locked in an intense battle in the first half, but some defensive missteps and back-to-back fouls in the third quarter allowed Utah to pull away. The closest BYU got in the second half was six points. The Cougars were led by Brenna Chase and Paisley Johnson, who scored 17 points each, and Shaylee Gonzales, who added 11 points.
Utah out-rebounded BYU 40-32.
Roberts said the Utes weren’t worried as they held just a 34-31 lead over the Cougars at halftime because they were playing good basketball. “In the first half we weren’t hitting shots like we’ve been hitting shots, but we weren’t taking bad shots,” Roberts said. “You just have to keep shooting.”
Huff said that advice, Edward’s hustle and the encouragement of her teammates helped overcome a slow start.
“She was 10-of-13 in the second half,” Roberts pointed out. “She just has to stay confident and stay with it. I didn’t have any doubts.”
In fact, she told her assistant coaches, Huff would shine in the second half. And once shots started falling for her, she played with the kind of conviction that is contagious.
“It’s human nature, every player, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at,” Roberts said, “when you start scoring a little bit, everything gets better. Your defense gets better, your rebounding gets better, you have a little bit more bounce in your step. … As the rim started to get a little bit bigger, she started to play a little bit bigger.”
Huff said the Cougars were tough in the paint and they had a size advantage, but she and Edwards just kept working.
“They were bigger, but it’s just going around and figuring out what you can do against it,” Huff said.
Edwards thrilled the crowd and delighted her teammates when she blocked a shot and then took the ball to the other end of the court, dribbling through three BYU defenders, and hit a layup.
“We were all yelling at her to pass it out, and she just took it all the way,” Gylten said. “I stood at half court and just laughed.”
Roberts was equal parts exasperated and impressed. Edwards had attempted that same play without making the basket earlier.
“I pulled her aside, and said, ‘Do not do that again,’” Roberts said. “Clearly I’m getting through to her. … But that’s what makes her great. She’s fearless. She makes plays.”
Edwards finished with 12 points, 15 rebounds and three steals. Judkins had high praise for Utah’s post players.
“We just got out-toughed,” he said. “That’s the only word I can use. They beat us on the boards. Edwards and Huff just killed us. That was the game.”1 comment on this story
Utah's victory thrilled the 6,106 fans who showed up for the rivalry game wearing red. Both players and coaches said the crowd support was a tremendous lift for them at critical moments.
“The crowd made such a difference tonight,” Roberts said. “Players feed off of it and it just adds so much to the game. When I took this job, I wanted this to be the toughest place to play in the Pac-12 with the elevation and because it is a sports town. We have great sports fans here, we just need them to keep coming out because I think they are going to like what they are seeing. I really appreciate them coming out tonight.”