Utah basketball: Moments of strong defense make the difference for Utes
Everyone saw the scoring and the 3-point shooting. Everyone saw the fast breaks and the crowd-pleasing passing.
The defense was a little harder to spot.
It showed up in spurts for Utah in an 80-69 win over Oregon State on Saturday afternoon. But when it did, it changed the game and the fortunes for the Utes.
"I thought there were a few minutes in the first half where our defense and our intensity was awesome," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "It was tough because Oregon State had good players on the floor and they shot the ball well. But we were able to be successful on that end."
The Beavers shot 10 for 19 from 3-point range, but missed four of their last five from beyond the arc at the end. That allowed the Utes to finish the game by scoring 17 of the final 26 points. There was the 18-0 run in the middle of the first half that happened mainly because Utah forced OSU into a number of turnovers.
Sophomore guard Brandon Taylor harassed Oregon State guard Roberto Nelson all around the Huntsman Center. The leading scorer in the conference at 21 points a game, Nelson could never find a groove. He scored just four points in the first half. He finished with 16, but never really made his imprint on the matchup like he so often does.
"Brandon was terrific defensively, just completely dialed in," Krystkowiak said. "We're a good defensive team and we could be even better if everyone played like Brandon. He gets into passing lanes, is always talking, and has one of the biggest hearts on the team."
As they did against Oregon on Thursday, the Utes were able to force turnovers. They blocked eight shots overall and they contested more shots at the rim. Delon Wright was a catalyst, coming up with three blocks and two steals. Jordan Loveridge had two steals and a block as well.
On Thursday, that defense carried Utah. On Saturday against the Beavers, the defense complemented a much better offensive effort and allowed the Utes to pull away when they needed a run the most.
"I thought we played well on that end, especially in the last five minutes," Wright said. "The last few games I've been getting my timing down for some of those blocked shots. It's important because it helps with momentum."