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December 9, 2012One more shot, one more rebound, one more stop. Even one less turnover might have been enough to overthrow BYU Saturday on their home court.
From player to coach, every Ute, to the man, will re-live every moment of this 61-58 loss and second guess practically every movement and every decision he made Saturday night, and they'll have to do it until December 18, when they get a re-match with SMU.
While head coach Larry Krystkowiak applauded his team's effort and energy post-game, there was no talk about moral victories, or special lessons learned from the heartbreaking loss.
More than any statistic or any one player's performance, what Utah will get out of this loss is not a feel-good, aw,shucks-we-tried-our-best moment, but rather the intangible benefits of an absolute refusal to take the moral victory.
Moral victories, by definition require a favorite and an underdog. In other words, one or both parties must acknowledge inequities.
By refusing to take the moral victory, Utah consciously or subconsciously perceives itself as an equal to a team at BYU's caliber - and that fact is the key factor to take away from this loss, and perhaps the single most significant breakthrough of the young season for the Utes.
A moral victory isn't possible if one team refuses to accept that the other is superior and junior point guard Glen Dean's post game comments are telling.
"For me personally, this hurts.We put a lot of time and effort this week in preparing for this game," he said, likely not intentionally using verbiage which is typically used when a player feels his team ought to have won. "I don't want to take anything away from BYU, they're a great team and they have two really good players in Haws and Davies."
So as Utah breaks down this game on film, play by play and it will learn its basketball lessons and re-think the Xs and Os and the game in that sense, will be extremely valuable from a practical standpoint.
"We're going to learn a lot from this, and continue to move forward and prepare for our next opponent," said Dean.
Coming into Saturday's game, if someone had told Krystkowiak that BYU's Tyler Haws would be 2-10 from the field and 0-3 from the three point line, and Brandon Davies would be limited to just 11 points and six rebounds Saturday, it would have been a deal he would have taken in a heartbeat.
Credit Utah's game plan and execution of said game plan for shutting down BYU's two prolific players, which gave Utah a chance in the contest.
While Krystkowiak's plan was to shut down Haws & Davies, they paid close attention to the other wing in game preparations this week. Repeatedly, the Ute coaching staff asked their team to always be aware of where the opposite guard/wing was. That person was likely to have been starter Brock Zylstra, but the Utes acknowledged that it was that third nameless person in the shadows that could ultimately hurt them.
"We talked about Haws & Davies having 50-60 percent of their offense, and you can't stop everything. You circle some percentages of some guys, and you're going to have to live with that," Krystkowiak defended. "We knew there was going to be a wild card in the game, whether that was Zylstra, or any of those other guys could have been the wild card."
Saturday at the Marriott Center, BYU's wild card was 6-foot-2 guard Matt Carlino.
Starting to make their living as a strong defensive team, Utah held BYU to 31.1 percent shooting, but allowed Carlino, who is averaging 6.3 ppg this season, his second double-figure scoring game of the season.
Carlino had the hot hand for BYU Saturday, hitting 7-13 shots and 5-10 from beyond the arc for 19 points.
Beyond the singular defensive deficiency, Utah will look back with regret on its offensive struggles to end the game. Utah scored its last bucket at the 7:05 mark on a Glen Dean three pointer, and despite the offensive drought, found a way to still be one shot away from tying in the waning seconds of the contest.
Ending the first half poorly, the Utes didn't fare much better in the second half, as they shot just 25 percent from the field and 20 percent from three point range, managing just 23 points in the session. The poor shooting effort was the result of a BYU halftime adjustment, as the Cougars moved to a zone defense, something the Utes have struggled with all season.
"I think their zone kind of stunned us, and I feel like we got stagnant," Dean explained. "We weren't moving the ball, or attacking the gaps like we should have."
True freshman Jordan Loveridge led Utah with 14 points, but had zero rebounds for the first time all season, though his presence on the court can't truly be quantified, given his general awareness for the game and the many intangibles he brings.
Several Utes fell into that same category Saturday, by virtue of their hustle and hard-nosed play which did not net recordable statistics.
Senior Cedric Martin went 0-4, but grabbed six rebounds, two assists and two steals, however it was Martin's defense and effective shut-down of Haws that brought the most value to the floor for the Utes. Though Haws finished with 14 points and six rebounds, 10 of his points came from the free throw line on 2-10 (20%) shooting. Haws came into the contest averaging 20.9 ppg and 5.5 rebounds.
Junior point guard Glen Dean ended with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists, while both of Utah's big men started strong, but could not sustain their performances through the second half.
Dean had little to say post-game
Sophomore Dallin Bachynski had seven points and eight rebounds in the first half, but finished with seven points and nine rebounds after getting into foul trouble, effectively shutting down his night.
Senior center Jason Washburn came into the game on a hot shooting streak, having made 12-12 consecutive game shots, but ironically missed his one shot of the night, and of his last 13 attempts on a shot late in the game that would have put the Utes up by one point with :26 remaining.
Road games are always a crucial litmus test for young, inexperienced teams in any sport at any level. Factor in an intense road, rivalry game and Utah's performance Saturday, while not a moral victory, is certainly an indication of a tough, gritty team that won't back down on the road; a positive indicator of good things to come.
More significantly, early in the Krystkowiak era, Utah put the basketball world on notice that is no longer a program willing to be satisfied with almosts, what-ifs and moral victories.