Not quite four minutes into Friday night’s game vs. Minnesota, Utah held a 16-0 lead, meaning the Utes had outscored two opponents by 110 points in about 44 minutes of basketball at the Huntsman Center.
Not surprisingly, the rest of the evening became far more stressful against a Big Ten team. Yet Utah stayed in front throughout a 73-69 victory that gave Larry Krystkowiak his 200th win as a college coach.
The Utes (3-0) have trailed only momentarily in any game since the first seven minutes of their season opener at Nevada. That remained true Friday, even with the Golden Gophers having a one-and-one free-throw opportunity, down by one point in the last eight minutes. Minnesota made the Utes agonize until the last 2.7 seconds, when Timmy Allen made a clinching free throw after grabbing a rebound.
Allen and Both Gach, who grew up in Minnesota, each scored 19 points for Utah and Riley Battin had 13. That adds up to a 51-point effort for the Utes' three sophomores, who were just getting started at this level last November when they combined for only 13 points in a loss at Minnesota.
Utah's veterans remembered that “introduction to college basketball,” as Gach described it, and they responded well Friday.
“Us being sophomores now, we're more confident; we're looked at as leaders, and we've just got to step up and perform,” Gach said.
“When they were on their runs, we were able to slow down and make the next play,” Allen said.
The Utes actually say, “Next” to one another on the court, a reminder to regroup and not worry about what just went wrong. That word had to be used a little too often in the second half, when Utah committed nine of its 16 turnovers and the Gophers threatened to move ahead.
Almost the exact same pattern unfolded last week at Nevada, but the Utes maintained their lead. Responding to difficult situations was not an issue in a 143-49 rout of Mississippi Valley State, but the Utes showed poise when they needed it against Minnesota (1-3).
The Gophers, having lost close games to Oklahoma and Butler, shot only 35.1% from the field. But they stayed in this game with 17 offensive rebounds – including eight by center Daniel Oturu, who finished with 21 points and 18 boards. Minnesota had only five turnovers, although No. 5 was significant. Utah freshman Rylan Jones stole a pass, then found Allen for a flying dunk that made it 65-59 with 2:08 remaining.
A lot happened after that, including some critical free-throw misses by Battin. Skipping to the end, Jones smartly fouled Carr, with the Utes leading by three points in the last 5.4 seconds. Carr missed the first shot and purposely missed the second, with Allen rebounding the ball and then making one free throw (after missing) to secure the win.
Utah administrators lowered the upper-bowl curtains Friday, and the result was a packed lower bowl that created a revved-up atmosphere. Krystkowiak enjoyed all of it, except for Utah's flurry of turnovers and forced shots midway through the second half that “took some of the life out of the building,” he said.
But the Utes played through it. “We were trying to push the ball,” Gach said. “At some point, we've got to realize, 'just calm down.' ”
That’s what the Utes did in key moments Friday, and then Utah athletic director Mark Harlan and former AD Chris Hill presented the game ball to Krystkowiak. Call it a shared assist, on a night when the Utes had more turnovers than assists (12) and still beat a Big Ten team.