On the Rise Of Utah Basketball

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 26th, 2015

On Saturday, Arizona will travel to Utah for a game with major implications to the Pac-12 regular season title picture. Any casual basketball fan knows the general story of Sean Miller and his refresh of the Wildcats program – a program with a proud history returned to elite status following the bumpy ending of the Lute Olson era. What many may not recognize is that the Utes are following a similar path. Following the stability and excellence of the 14 years of the Rick Majerus era (which featured no losing records, 10 seasons with at least 24 wins, a Final Four and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances), the Utes burned through two coaches in seven years and suffered four losing seasons over that volatile stretch. Compared with Arizona’s post-Olson struggles, Utah’s downturn was far more pronounced. But through the combination of the right hire, rampant roster revamping and, let’s face it, some good luck, the Utes have come out the other side of their dark period as a member of a power conference and back to national contention.

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place (Utah Athletics)

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place. (Utah Athletics)

The 2010-11 season was a great example of mixed emotions around the Utah basketball program. There was the excitement that the Utes were headed to a new conference – the newly named Pac-12 – in the following season. But at the same time, the current edition of the team was struggling to a tie for sixth place in the Mountain West as head coach Jim Boylen wrapped up his four-year stint with a third losing conference record. The program was coming off a season in which five players (including some guy named Marshall Henderson, and another one named Carlon Brown – who went on to be a Pac-12 Tournament MVP in leading Colorado to an NCAA bid in 2012) had transferred out of the program. Boylen was subsequently fired, and after a search that included St. Mary’s Randy Bennett and former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried as candidates, Montana’s Larry Krystkowiak was named the new head coach on April 2, 2011.

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Pac-12 Midyear Awards

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 2nd, 2015

With conference play beginning in earnest on Friday night in the Pac-12, it’s time to give out some superlatives for the non-conference portion of the season.

Non-Conference Player of the Year: Delon Wright, Sr, Utah

If Anything, Delon Wright Is Even More Versatile And Efficient This Season (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

If Anything, Delon Wright Is Even More Versatile And Efficient This Season (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Prior to the season, the Utes’ point guard earned RTC Co-Preseason Player of the Year honors, shared with Stanford senior Chasson Randle. Now, seven weeks later, Wright stands alone as our panelists’ unanimous choice as the best player in the Pac-12 thus far. Last season, Wright drew amazement with his level of versatility and efficiency. This season, he’s upped the ante in both categories. Didn’t think his 57.2 eFG% was sustainable? That’s up to 60.9% this season. He turned the ball over on nearly 19% of possessions and handed out assists on 29% of teammates’ buckets last year. The turnovers are down to ever 14% of possessions and the assists are up to 34% of teammates’ hoop. Think his perimeter shooting was a weakness last year? Well, he’s hitting a third of his still limited attempts from deep, up from 22% last year. Now sure, with conference play rolling around, those numbers will dip some with increased competition and opponents familiar with his game. But not much, as the Utes have played a tough enough non-conference slate to have seen Wright tested on a variety of occasions.

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Pac-12 Opening Weekend: What To Watch For

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

We waited all these many months for opening weekend of the college basketball season and we’re rewarded with… Mount St. Mary’s at Arizona, Montana State at UCLA, and South Dakota at Stanford? Well, no matter, I’m still excited. Below we’ll take a look at some things to keep an eye on as all of the Pac-12 teams tip off their seasons this weekend.

  • Arizona: vs. Mount Saint Mary’s on Friday, vs. Cal State Northridge on Sunday (both on Pac-12 Networks): The Wildcats shouldn’t be challenged in either contest (although CSUN at least has some interesting athletes, including Landon Drew, brother of former UCLA point guard Larry Drew II), but that’s no reason not to tune in to see just how Sean Miller intends to pour all of his talent on to the court at the same time. Plus, the over/under on thunderous dunks from the duo of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson is set at 10 for the weekend.

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Company Could Feel Some Rim Rash After This Weekend (Getty)

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Company Could Feel Some Rim Rash After This Weekend. (Getty)

  • Arizona State: vs. Chicago State on Friday (Pac-12 Networks): Do you have the scouting report on Tra Holder, Willie Atwood and Roosevelt Scott down pat? No? Me neither, which is why I’ll be making sure to get a peak at the Sun Devils this weekend to see how Herb Sendek folds in the new talent with veterans like Shaquielle McKissic and Jonathan Gilling.
  • California: vs. Alcorn State on Friday, vs. Kennesaw State on Sunday (both on Pac-12 Networks): The Golden Bears should get through this weekend just fine and be undefeated when they face Syracuse in the 2K Classic next Thursday. Tune in this weekend to check out Cal’s high-flying wings in Cuonzo Martin‘s system and learn how Sam Singer is coming along at the point.

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Pac-12 Season Previews: Utah Utes

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Utah.

Utah Utes

Strengths. If you’re reading this microsite, there is a good chance you already know about the Utes’ stars such as Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge, but just about every team in this conference has a star it can point to. Rather, what makes this team a sexy choice as the second-best team in this conference is not merely those two stars, but the quality of depth throughout this roster. Veterans like Brandon Taylor, Dallin Bachynski, Dakarai Tucker and Jeremy Olsen are all accustomed to big roles on this team. Add in a talented batch of newcomers, including four-star power forward Brekkot Chapman, talented JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, international recruit Jakob Poetl, three-point specialist Kyle Kuzma and floor general Isaiah Wright, and Larry Krystkowiak is swimming in talented options up and down his roster.

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time (Utah Basketball)

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time. (Utah Athletics)

Weaknesses. We’re not even going to pick nits with the roster. There are some weaknesses here which will become apparent as the season wears on, but where this squad really has to prove itself is in its ability to win games. The Utes lost all seven of their games decided by a single possession last season and, given a serious uptick in the quality of their non-conference schedule, their mettle will be tested early and often this year. Utah has plenty of guys who have been through plenty of battles, but until they can prove their ability to pull out their best effort when the chips are down, there will remain questions about the ceiling of this team.

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One on One: A Pac-12 Preview With Jon Wilner

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Pac-12 expert in San Jose Mercury News college basketball scribe, Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline).

Rush the Court: Even with losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from last season’s squad, Arizona is once again loaded. What makes the Wildcats so well rounded, and do you see them as one of the favorites to take home the national title?

Wilner: They certainly have to be in the very top tier of contenders for the national title. I that that their depth again is their biggest strength. They have so many good players that they are not just reliant on one or two guys. I think they are going to have more options to score this year. They should be a little bit better on offense. There might be a slight drop-off on the defensive end of the court, but it will not be enough to really hurt them. They should be right in the mix nationally. Sean Miller does a great job of getting his guys to play hard all the time. They have a huge homecourt advantage and they have a lot of experience of being able to go win on the road. A lot of success comes from the ability to go win on the road and this group has done just that.

Arizona (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Brings Back Enough Talent to Win a National Title This Year (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Colorado brings back a lot of experience from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad. With key players Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson, and Askia Booker returning for the Buffaloes, can Tad Boyle make it three NCAA Tournaments in three years?

Wilner: I think so. I expect them to be an NCAA Tournament team. I think Colorado is the best bet to finish second behind Arizona in the conference standings. It might be three or four games behind Arizona, but second place is second place. Tad Boyle is a terrific coach. He is as good as there is in the league. I think the fact that they played so much of last season without Spencer Dinwiddie will help them now that he is officially gone. There is not going to be the transition that you would normally find with a team that loses its best player to the NBA because Colorado did not have Dinwiddie for the last couple months of last season.

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Preseason Questions: Is Utah’s Delon Wright Ready For Stardom?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 7th, 2014

Many college basketball fans still may not know who Delon Wright is – he remains a trendy selection for the “criminally underrated” superlative – but 12 months ago, no college basketball fan knew who Delon Wright was. The younger brother of NBA veteran Dorell Wright was a late bloomer who garnered little recruiting attention out of high school. He was a more coveted quantity by the time his two years at the City College of San Francisco had expired, but even then, Wright arrived on Utah’s campus with little fanfare.

Delon Wright Was A Pleasant Surprise Last Year; Are Bigger Things In Store For The Utah Senior This Season?

Delon Wright Was A Pleasant Surprise Last Year; Are Bigger Things In Store For The Utah Senior This Season?

What a difference a year can make. The efficiency tour de force that was Wright’s first D-I season has turned him into a preseason contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year and made his team a good bet to crash its first NCAA Tournament in a half-decade. Utah was picked second in the Pac-12 preseason poll, and for the first time in a long time, there are real expectations in Salt Lake City. Whether those hopes are fulfilled will partially be decided by how stirring an encore (and finale) Wright can deliver. The now-senior was brilliant last season, but also disappeared for critical stretches of a Utah season that ended in the NIT. Fans crave a different sort of postseason this year, but a critical question has yet to be answered: Is Delon Wright ready for stardom?

Statistically speaking, Wright kept everyone happy last year. Old school per-game enthusiasts were satiated by a nightly average of 15.5 PPG/6.8 RPG/5.8 APG across the board, while efficiency hounds marveled at Wright’s disruptive defensive habits (4.0% steal percentage, 3.5% block percentage) and a squeaky clean 119.2 offensive rating. His efficient offense was propelled by an eye-popping 62 percent two-point field goal percentage, an outrageous rate of conversion for a guard from inside the arc. By contrast, Louisville’s preseason All-America big man Montrezl Harrell had 97 dunks a season ago and still failed to match Wright’s gaudy two-point range percentage.

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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part One

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day in San Francisco on Thursday. Check back later in the day for his notes on the conference’s other six teams.

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

USC

Coach Andy Enfield took the stage with his starting power forward (or center, Enfield noted both), Nikola Jovanovic, and provided opening remarks lasting about as long as a USC possession: 16 seconds. It was swift and brief. He was complimentary of his fellow, on-stage Trojan, and left the rest to us. Which is probably indicative of the program he’s building. It is just year two and arguably the least interesting season during a rebuild. It’s neither new and exciting nor developed enough to garner much attention. His team is picked to finish 10th, but he likes what he’s building, “We have more athleticism, better shooting. We have an elite freshman point guard (Jordan McLaughlin) we recruited,” said Enfield. These components, he notes, are and will become major parts of what we presume is the Enfield system, aka Dunk City, aka Galen Dunk Center. The addition of McLaughlin is huge, and, without directly saying it, Enfield knows how important he is to their future, “We’re expecting big things from him. I think he came to USC for that opportunity, to be relied upon as a freshman. He’ll have that opportunity. We’re excited for him.” Which is great because I am, too! I’ll be closely following McLaughlin’s progress as his commitment to USC, rather than UCLA when the Bruins were in dire need for a 2014 point guard, is a fascinating storyline to this season. USC might play in flashes and make swift opening remarks, but they just might be a program to stick around awhile.

Washington State

Easily the most charismatic of the coaches, Ernie Kent considered himself back from sabbatical: “Any coach that has coached 30-plus years needs a sabbatical. I’m just amazed at what it’s done for me in terms of your energy, your spirt.” Energy and spirit he provided. He was colorful and funny, even having a slight back-and-forth with his accompanying star, DaVonte Lacy. The two seemed to understand the challenges ahead considering the roster in Pullman and the depth of the conference. But Lacy believes they have the unique opportunity to come together, build on chemistry and do something special. It’s something he learned in his short stint with the Pac-12 All-Star team while in China and it’s something he expanded upon when I asked him about leadership, “Being someone that’s been through the fire already, preparing [newcomers] to go through it, that’s how I’m approaching leadership.” Lacy hopes to galvanize this group, building chemistry and subsequently surprising a few people with what the Cougars can do. And speaking of surprises, can you imagine a “lost” Ernie Kent knocking on your door looking for directions? “Hi, I’m lost. I’m also your new basketball coach.” It’s something Kent has been doing in trying to energize the Cougars fan base, “I’ve tried to make myself available as much as possible… it’s been fun getting out and meeting people in Pullman.” Like I said, the most charismatic of the 12 lead gentlemen.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.23.14 Edition

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 23rd, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Let the dissection of the Pac-12 media poll begin. The league will have its media day from the San Francisco headquarters today, and the schools will be represented by each head coach and a few select players. The Pac-12 Networks and website will have live coverage, and here’s a schedule of when to expect each coach to take the stage and address the media in attendance. Who’s ready for commissioner Larry Scott’s rose-colored declaration about how the league is stronger than it’s ever been and another non-story update on the failed DirecTV negotiations? If there is such thing as suspense on this day, it will come from the predicted order of finish behind the likely favorite, second-ranked Arizona. In fact, the folks in Tucson are already wondering whether the Wildcats can run the table in conference play.
  2. Speaking of Wildcats and running the table, USA Today’s Scott Gleeson highlighted the group from Kentucky and skimmed through its schedule to pinpoint the toughest tests that stand in the way of a perfect season for the preseason No. 1. Among the contests circled was the December 20 matchup with UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic. Quality opponent and neutral court – the game will be played in Chicago – is a good start to the makings for an upset. And, as Gleeson pointed out, the timing of the game should give both programs a fair barometer and good sample size to mesh. That will be particularly important for the Bruins, who add Isaac Hamilton and Kevon Looney to the mix but are short on experience and in search of a defensive identity.
  3. The intrasquad showcases continued Wednesday as Stanford put on a Cardinal and White scrimmage. Head coach Johnny Dawkins has work to do in reloading the program’s first NCAA Tournament qualifier of his six-year tenure. It appears he has already found the breakout star of Year 7, as Rosco Allen turned heads with a winning performance in the dunk contest and 11 points and six rebounds in the 20-minute scrimmage. A team that finished in the top five in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting, the Cardinal have another dead-eye shooter to watch as Dorian Pickens edged out Chasson Randle in the contest. Randle, a first-team all-conference pick last season, led all scorers with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
  4. In Salt Lake City, Utah hosted its “Night With the Runnin’ Utes.” After a lackluster intrasquad scrimmage last Friday, head coach Larry Krystkowiak said his team is “making progress” and has the ability to go two-deep at each position. Utah played 16-minute halves that include a halftime shakeup in the rosters. It was a good night to be on Jordan Loveridge’s team as the junior scored a combined 27 points in split duty for each squad. The forward finished 8-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, and converted all seven of his free throws. The sidebar of the night belonged to 7-foot freshman Jakob Poetl, who returned after missing a week of practice because of a concussion suffered while playing dodgeball during a team dinner at Krystkowiak’s house. The Austrian collected 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
  5. At Colorado, sophomore guard Jaron Hopkins is making it a point to be more aggressive. Head coach Tad Boyle, who is looking to fill the void left behind by standout Spencer Dinwiddie, said the notable difference is in Hopkins’ decision-making. Hopkins received a crash course in his first year as the Buffaloes adjusted after Dinwiddie’s season-ending injury, so the transition should be more accelerated and less foreign this time around.
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Pac-12 Offseason Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 14th, 2014

With basketball season now officially a speck on the horizon, it is time to dig back in and begin the trek that will eventually drop us off at the Final Four in Indianapolis on the first weekend of April. If you, like us, have been away enjoying your summer and you need a refresher on what’s going on in the world of Pac-12 basketball, we’ll get you jump started by trying to sum up every Pac-12 team’s offseason and their big questions for this season in a short paragraph.

Washington State – The Cougars’ big offseason story was etched in stone way back on March 18 when they fired head coach Ken Bone after five increasingly less successful seasons in Pullman. After a tidy two-week search, former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent was named as Bone’s successor. Kent’s got his work cut out for him at the toughest job in the conference, but he’s shown an ability to recruit on the fly, putting together a tidy four-man 2014 class that will at least give the Cougs a chance to surround star senior guard DaVonte Lacy with some decent parts.

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

California – Likewise, the Golden Bears’ offseason story revolves around a coaching change, what with Mike Montgomery putting an end to his Hall of Fame career following last year’s disappointing season. Athletic director Sandy Barbour wound up with an intriguing hire when he pulled Cuonzo Martin away from Tennessee following his March run from the First Four to the Sweet Sixteen. Martin’s first year in Berkeley will be marked by a short bench, and he’s yet to have any success on the recruiting trail. Furthermore, replacing a fixture like Montgomery is never going to be easy. But Martin immediately gives Cal a completely different feel on the sidelines. Stay tuned.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 15th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Utah.

What Went Right

For the first time since Larry Krystkowiak took over a shell of a program from Jim Boylen, Utah basketball fans had a team that they knew could be competitive night in and night out. Of the Utes’ 12 losses this season, seven were by a single possession. The talent level is clearly back to the point where the Utes can be competitive in the Pac-12, defense has become a priority, and the future appears bright.

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak's Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak’s Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

What Went Wrong

So, those seven losses by a single possession? Well, that’s not good, is it? Time and time again, the Utes had chances to win close games down the stretch, and time and time again they wound up with losses in those games. Their record in games decided by a single possession was 0-7. They lost all three of their overtime games. And only six times all season did they win games decided by fewer than 10 points. In other words, unless the Utes were blowing out their opponent, odds were good that they were losing. Chalk some of that up to bad luck, another portion to a young team still learning to win games, and more to some coaching breakdowns. But the good news is that if next year’s Utes can find some ways to win those close games, they should be looking at a very good record.

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Marching to Vegas: The Final Steps

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 7th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.We find ourselves on the penultimate day of the basketball season. A season, like those before it, that has seen highs and low, cliché, cliché, cliché. I’ve been critical of the Pac, supportive of the Pac, predictive, analytical, and funny. I’ve defended it multiple times and sang praise, too. I’ve linked this entire lead. But the point here is that we’re here. The calendar has turned to our favorite month. Our March to Vegas is over. Our season embarks into the madness of sudden death and the promise of possibility. Tournaments begin (ultimately two of them) with abundant hope and now I’m getting lost in Waltonian hyperbole; but if not hyperbole then what is March for? I mean, look at our first and only conference games thus far in the month. The home and road teams have nearly split their contests. To date, home teams had been winning at a greater than 66 percent clip. Suddenly we get to the third month on the calendar and nothing becomes predictable. Each of Wednesday’s road teams won and then, in perhaps the most unexpected of outcomes, the Trojans got their second victory. Indeed we’re knee deep in the madness and we aren’t even in Vegas yet.

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

But before we get there, I’d like to revisit our first thought. When I lauded that the Pac was back before nary a game was played. Is it back? Or, perhaps more aptly said, has it returned? With the benefit of hindsight, I’d say it is. Look at what we have: arguably the best crop of guards in the nation and the best defense the nation has to offer. We watched the emergence of Utah, a budding program under the hard-nosed and determined watch of Larry Krystkowiak. And have you watched Delon Wright? I didn’t see that coming and if you did, link me to what you said about it because I’d like to buy you a drink. What a phenomenal player who is coming back next season. And still has this season to play (I see you, Vegas). Further, we watched what I believe to be the best backcourt in the country. Or at least the most dynamic. Between Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, is there anything they can’t do? And if there is, they could just toss it up to Zach LaVine and it might be all right.

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#rushthetrip Day 15: Ute Revival Put On Hold in Salt Lake City

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 21st, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

Wednesday brought me back into Utah (which is quickly becoming the official home state of #rushthetrip!) for a rendezvous between the Utes and #4 Arizona. As of Tuesday, few bracketologists (including our own Daniel Evans) had Utah in the field — or even in that first crop of teams missing out — but finding a way to nip the Cats would surely thrust Larry Krystkowiak’s group into the bubble discussion. And for the once-spoiled turned long-suffering Utes’ fans (just one NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005 after making 10 of 11 trips from 1995-2005), the opportunity at hand had to make this one of the biggest college basketball games Salt Lake City has seen in the last decade.

The Young Utes Have Yet To Fully Arrive, But The Huntsman Center Offered One Of The Best Atmospheres This Trip Has Seen

The Young Utes Have Yet To Fully Arrive, But The Huntsman Center Offered One Of The Best Atmospheres This Trip Has Seen

The Huntsman Center atmosphere supported that thesis. Fans filled the sizable gym (a listed attendance of 14,266 fell a few seats short of capacity), and despite a first half that featured little in the way of positive developments for the Utes, stayed involved throughout. The student section was amazing, nearly stretching all the way from floor to rafters, a sea of red fully prepped to swallow up the Wildcats. Their consistent engagement would pay off in the latter portions of the second half, as the Utes scrapped their way back into a game that they had trailed by 12 with 13 minutes to play. I was more than happy to be forced to spend most of the final 10 minutes (plus overtime) standing behind the Huntsman Center masses. Once that Ute surge began in earnest, there was nary a seated fanny in the building; I can’t recall too many games where I’ve seen seats used less frequently. Clearly, Utah fans wanted this game.

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