Provo » For about 25 minutes or so Saturday night, BYU's defense and blurry transition to offense had Utah on its heels. Jackson Emery had five steals by halftime as the Cougars forced 11 turnovers.
The Cougars led by as much as 18 points. It could have been more.
"We didn't play good enough overall," Utah forward Luka Drca said. "In the first half we were horrible."
Utah refused to melt under the heat of a sold-out Marriott Center. BYU's cushion was ultimately greater than Utah could handle. Still, in enemy territory, the Utes took the Cougars best shot and remained upright before ultimately losing 82-69.
With less then seven minutes to play, five quick points from Utah guard Marshall Henderson cut the BYU margin to 64-60. The Cougars were missing shots and momentum appeared to be with the Utes.
"We took a few body blows throughout but kept scrapping," Utah coach Jim Boylen said. "I love the way we battled."
Unfortunately, Utah had few answers for BYU guard Jimmer Fredette. The Cougar guard cut through the paint for driving, spinning layins then launched three-pointers in scoring 12 points in a little more than 2 minutes on the way to 36 for the game.
"He made a couple great shots," said Utah forward Jay Watkins, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Watkins was one of the reasons Utah enjoyed any success in the second half. He constantly carved himself space in the low post and attacked the basket, often finding open teammates.
"We were very confident," he said. "We dug ourselves out of the hole we dug for ourselves."
At the half, Utah was shooting 41 percent and was 1 of 8 from beyond the three-point line. They appeared still fixated by the IMax style introduction of BYU's players.
David Foster misfired on a dunk, while Henderson and Carlon Brown were missing badly from the outside. Meanwhile, the aggressive Cougars were getting their paws on Utah's passes to build a 40-22 lead.
The Utes have been behind a lot this season, and have come back to win some of those games. Not on Saturday.
"We hung in there," Boylen said. "I'm proud of my group."
» Jay Watkins scores 18 points and sparks a Utah comeback to cut an 18-point BYU lead to four in the second half.
» Utah shoots 4 of 18 from the three-point line and 43 percent from the field overall.
» Utah won the battle of the rebounds, 40-34, but turned the ball over 16 times.