Utah sophomores Timmy Allen and Both Gach are the team's most experienced players, and they performed that way in a 79-74, season-opening victory at Nevada.
Allen posted 23 points and 11 rebounds and Gach scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half as the Utes staged a mild upset Tuesday night in the debut of Nevada coach Steve Alford at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.
The Utes led by nine points with 4:07 remaining, only to have Nevada rally. Zane Meeks made a 3-pointer, plus a free throw, cutting the lead to 71-68 with 1:11 left. But Allen scored in the lane, stabilizing things for Utah, which survived the 30-point production of Nevada guard Lindsey Drew. Jazz Johnson added 16 points for the Wolf Pack.
Freshman guard Rylan Jones' two free throws with 26.8 seconds remaining gave the Utes a 76-70 lead, and they held on for the most impressive season-opening win of coach Larry Krystkowiak's tenure. Jones shot poorly from outside, but finished with nine points, five rebounds and five assists.
“It’s a good way to get this thing rolling,” Krystkowiak said afterward on 700 AM.
Allen said, “I'm just proud of my guys. … We've got a young group, but we feel like we're experienced beyond our age.”
Krystkowiak liked the way freshmen Lahat Thioune and Mikael Jantuen defended inside and rebounded as the Utes maintained their lead late in the game. He liked the overall rebounding effort, with freshman center Branden Carlson contributing nine boards. Utah had a 51-32 rebounding advantage.
In a pregame interview, Krystkowiak sounded eager to see what his young team would look like against a good team in a challenging environment.
“We've got a lot of new guys, but this group seems really connected,” he said.
The first game would give him an opportunity to “figure out what it is we need to fix,” said Krystkowiak, who was concerned about turnovers that would lead to easy baskets for Nevada and rev up the home crowd.
This was a different kind of season opener for Krystkowiak, facing a proven mid-major program from the Mountain West on the road. Krystkowiak had won his first eight openers at Utah, beating San Diego Christian, Willamette, Evergreen State, Ball State, Southern Utah, Northwest Nazarene, Prairie View A&M and Maine.
The Utes will face another team from that undistinguished category, Mississippi Valley State, in their home opener Friday, to be followed by a good test from Minnesota on Nov. 15.
Utah took a 37-32 halftime lead in Reno, leading throughout most of the first half. Allen scored 11 points, helping the Utes overcome the early flurry of Drew, who scored 18 of Nevada's first 27 points. With five turnovers, including only one that led immediately to a Nevada layup, the Utes fulfilled Krystkowiak's challenge to take care of the ball. They also did a good job of scoring in transition, as he said they would have to do.
Nevada quickly tied the game as the second half started, but the Utes soon surged ahead by eight points as Gach asserted himself. Utah wobbled when guard Rylan Jones picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half, as the Wolf Pack used a 9-0 run to take their first lead since early in the game.
The Utes responded again, though, and Gach’s 3-pointer gave them a 69-60 lead. That proved to be just enough cushion, as Utah maintained its poise down the stretch.
• Utah begins the 2019-20 men’s basketball season with a 79-74 victory at Nevada, leading nearly the entire game.
• Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak is now 9-0 in season openers, after starting on the road for the first time.
• Utah’s home opener is Friday vs. Mississippi Valley State.