The atmosphere at the Huntsman Center late Saturday afternoon could be defined as subdued. At a minimum, it wasn’t nearly what Wednesday night produced when Utah came from behind to defeat archrival BYU.
The upper bowl of the venerable 15,000-seat arena was curtained off for an unorthodox 3 p.m. tip against Central Arkansas. The announced crowd of 9,888 clearly represented tickets distributed, not people actually in their seats. Blame the low-major opponent for the lack of atmosphere. Blame a proverbial fan hangover after a disappointing Pac-12 football championship game on Friday night. Maybe even blame the Utes women’s volleyball team playing in the NCAA Tournament at BYU later Saturday for drawing fans away.
In any case, 72 hours removed from that rivalry win, and with a week-long final-exam break on deck, the Utes had no intention of playing down to the opposition.
The Utes assumed control over the Bears before the first media timeout and never gave it back, cruising to a 98-67 win to move to 5-0 this season at Huntsman. Timmy Allen scored a game-high 24 points in just 26 minutes on 9-for-16 shooting to lead six Utes in double figures. The sophomore guard added eight rebounds and five assists.
“The emotion in the building on Wednesday, it’s kind of hard to overcome that,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We didn’t practice Thursday, but I think it’s just human nature with the highs and the energy that was spent in that gym, so it was a little bit odd.
“I was just proud that a lion’s share of our team responded really well, respected the game and shared the ball really well.”
Utah’s win may have come at a cost. Freshman point guard Rylan Jones, the hero Wednesday night against BYU after he scored 18 of his game-high 25 points in the second half and overtime, only played 9 minutes and was not on the Utes bench for the entirety of the second half. Krystkowiak said postgame that Jones took a shot to the ribs, but did not have a status update on the Holladay native.
Utah (7-2) shot a gaudy 60.6 percent from the floor in the first half and 50.7 percent game. It lived at the rim, scoring 42 points in the paint. To that end, Allen was aggressive from the outset, getting to and finishing at the rim almost at will.
Allen hit his first five shots, all on either layups or short jumpers in the lane. His 19 first-half points came on 7-for-10 shooting as the 2019 Pac-12 All-Freshman selection continues to play at a high level. Those 19 points helped stake the Utes to a 55-42 halftime lead.
“He’s a bucket, I love Timmy,” said freshman guard Jaxon Brenchley, who scored 11 points in 22 minutes while seeing extended time in place of Jones. “It’s fun to play with him.”
“He’s doing a nice job leading us, I thought he did a nice job sharing the ball at times,” Krystkowiak said. “He got his teammates involved and he’s always going to give a great effort from a defensive point of view.
“I was kind of curious to see how some guys would respond after Wednesday, and for the most part, I thought it was a real positive.”
Krystkowiak said the Utes will practice four times next week during finals in preparation to face Weber State on Saturday as part of the Beehive Classic at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Beyond that, Utah still has Kentucky and San Diego State on neutral floors to close out its non-conference schedule.
The Utes are not back at the Huntsman Center until Jan. 2 when they open Pac-12 play against two-time All-Pac-12 guard Tres Tinkle and Oregon State.