Coach Dave Rose's BYU basketball team has played a lot of high-caliber opponents already this season, including ranked clubs Iowa State, Wichita State and UMass.
But it would be hard to find a Cougar opponent that played better against them than the way the Utah Utes did on Saturday night in front of 13,733 fans at the Huntsman Center. Utah strolled to a 81-64 win, jumping to a big early lead and never letting the Cougars (8-4) find momentum to stage a comeback.
"That's a good team," Rose said. "They are 8-1 for a reason."
The Utes are now 9-1, and criticism that they've played a soft schedule will cease, at least anything coming out of Provo.
"They are a good team, and they were the better team tonight," said BYU guard Kyle Collinsworth. "They beat us in every way, so props to them."
Asked what went wrong for the Cougars, Collinsworth deadpanned: "Everything."
Basically, the Cougars couldn't make a shot to save their lives. They credited Utah's defense, but said they also missed a lot of shots they normally make. BYU shot 31.4 percent in the first half when it fell behind 42-29 and finished shooting just 32.8 percent.
"We didn't look like ourselves for most of the game," said Tyler Haws, who led the Cougars with 14 points but was just 3 of 11 from the field. Haws, Matt Carlino and Collinsworth combined to go 9 of 37 from the field.
The Cougars got away with horrible shooting in last year's 61-58 win over Utah, but not on this night. What is it about playing the Utes that seems to cause them to come out tight?
"No, we don't get tense," Haws bristled. "We don't get tense against anyone. We come out and battle. It is just that we didn't hit shots tonight, and we didn't feel like ourselves."
The Utes served notice that this wasn't going to be another BYU runaway from the start, jumping to a quick 10-2 lead and forcing Rose into a timeout before the first media timeout. The catalyst was Jordan Loveridge, the sophomore from West Jordan whom Rose and the Cougars desperately wanted out of high school.
Loveridge's 3-pointer with 13:01 remaining in the half gave the Utes a 21-6 lead, and the Cougars' shoulders began to slump. That gave the only Utahn who starts on Utah's roster 15 points, and although Loveridge didn't do much offensively after that, the damage was done.
"We never really found ourselves," Rose said. "Our shooting percentage was so bad that guys tried to take it on themselves to get a little too deep with the ball, or get to the rim and score."
The Cougars desperately tried to get the deficit under 10 before halftime, but the Utes scored on their last two possessions of the half, an inside bucket by Jeremy Olsen and Delon Wright's athletic outback.
In the second half, after Dakarai Tucker's 3-pointer gave the Utes a 50-31 lead, the Utes went six straight possessions without making a field, and scoring just a single point, but the Cougars couldn't take advantage.
A free throw by Eric Mika cut the deficit to 51-38, but the Cougars got no closer.
Later, Mika was assessed a flagrant-2 foul for a high foul on Dallin Bachynski, and sent to the locker room with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
"He made a play [on the ball] and ended up hitting [Bachynski] in the face, so it was a flagrant-2," Rose said.
BYU's other bugaboo was free throws, again. The Cougars made just 17 of 31 freebies, including some front ends when they were trying to mount a comeback.
"We weren't in synch," Rose said. "A lot of that had to do with the atmosphere. A lot had to do with their athleticism and length."