Utah basketball’s Both Gach receives NCAA eligibility waiver, will suit up vs. Sacramento State

Gach transferred back to Utah after spending last season at the University of Minnesota.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Both Gach (2) as the Utah Utes host the Westminster Griffins, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.

Craig Smith could use a guy like Both Gach.

Gach is a long, athletic veteran of 86 games at the Power Five level who can guard three positions while acting as a downhill slasher on the other end when his game is revved up and he is fully engaged.

Yes, as Smith embarks on his first season as the head coach at the University of Utah, he could use Gach, and as of Friday afternoon, Gach is now officially at Smith’s disposal.

Gach, a fourth-year Utes junior guard, has received an eligibility waiver from the NCAA for this season, the school announced on Friday.

The Austin, Minn., native — who played the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons with the Utes before spending last season at the University of Minnesota — has two years of eligibility remaining. Gach hit the NCAA Transfer Portal for the second time in June in the wake of the Golden Gophers firing Richard Pitino and hiring Ben Jacobson.

The NCAA’s new one-time transfer exemption, which allows immediate eligibility for anyone transferring for the first time, did not apply to Gach. Having already transferred once, from Utah to Minnesota following the 2019-20 season, Gach and the Utes were forced to seek an eligibility waiver from the NCAA.

With Gach’s eligibility in limbo, he did not suit up for a closed-door scrimmage vs. Wyoming on Oct. 23, a Nov. 4 exhibition vs. Westminster, nor the regular-season opener Tuesday vs. Abilene Christian. Missing a scrimmage and an exhibition were one thing, but missing a game that counted was another.

After Tuesday’s win over ACU, Smith addressed the fact that Gach’s eligibility limbo had begun bleeding into games that counted.

“I kind of expected it,” Smith said. “Quite frankly, we probably got it (the paperwork and documentation) in a little bit later than we wanted, but we had to get everything succinct. He was prepared. He did walkthrough and all those kinds of things, so we’ll see. Hopefully, he gets back. We’d love to have him, and he certainly brings a different element to our team. Expect the worst, hope for the best.”

Through it all, Gach participated in Utah’s summer program, went through the preseason and has been a full participant in practice. With that, Gach is expected to be in the lineup Saturday evening when the Utes host Sacramento State at the Huntsman Center (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). Utah has a quick turnaround off that game, hosting Bethune-Cookman on Monday night.