Before Saturday night Utah had last beaten in-state rival BYU in 2009, losing 11 of the prior 12 meetings in the series. And with talk earlier this week that the rivalry could be coming to an end in the near future, there may have been a greater sense of urgency from the folks who support the program when it came to ending BYU’s run of dominance.
In front of a charged crowd in Salt Lake City the Utes did just that, dominating from the opening tip and beating the Cougars 81-64 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final margin would indicate. Two reasons why Utah won by such a comfortable margin: forward Jordan Loveridge and guard Delon Wright, who could potentially emerge as one of the better wing tandems in the Pac-12 as the season wears on.
Loveridge, who was one of the conference’s best freshmen a season ago, hit the ground running and scored eight of Utah’s first ten points. He finished with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists on the night, with 15 of those points being scored in the first half. BYU was able to slow him down in the second half, but the problem at that point became the versatile City College of San Francisco product.
Wright (16 points, seven assists and six rebounds) accounted for eight points and five assists in the second half, with his ability to penetrate the defense and set up his teammates proving to be too much for BYU. Add in seven points from reserve center Dallin Bachynski (11 points, eight rebounds on the night) and Utah was able to increase the margin they built in the first half.
Combine those performances with their limiting Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws to 21 points on 6-for-26 shooting, and the end result was a quality victory the Utes needed based upon who they’ve beaten thus far. And that schedule may have led to many ignoring the progress made by Larry Krystkowiak’s team.
Utah finished last season with a 15-18 record, but their run to the Pac-12 tournament semifinals showed that the program was making progress, and Saturday’s win is another step in the right direction. The next step: improve their standing within a Pac-12 that’s much stronger than it was in any of the last three seasons. But with the tandem of Loveridge and Wright leading the way, Utah is capable of making a climb up the league standings.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.