Losses to BYU are never easy to take, especially when they're like this.
Where to begin?
The Utes struggled for most of the first half, but were fortunate the Cougars were equally as bad. Though I think Utah got off to a good enough start, they blew too many chances to really expand their lead in the first.
The moment things began to slip away for Utah in this game came late in the first half. Lawrence Borha had just hit a huge three to put Utah up eight and it looked like they might be pulling away from the Cougars, who up until this point had been in a shooting slump. After a BYU miss, Kim Tillie went up for the board, but tipped the ball in on accident, giving the Cougars two points.
Not the end of the world, right? Well after a sloppy posession, which ended with a turnover, Lee Cummard came down and hit a huge three. That seemed to get Cummard into a rhythm, since he wasn't doing much of anything up until that point. But most importantly, it was a five-point swing for BYU. The Utes went from possibly rebounding a missed Cougar shot and expanding their lead to double digits to only leading by 3.
Though the teams traded baskets the rest of the half, you got the sense Utah was in trouble. I said as much in the all-too-quiet game thread at the half:
I don’t know about this…
You could sense something was off, especially in the final two or three minutes of the half. Utah went from leading by eight to completely collapsing and allowing BYU back into the game. It was not a pretty sight and while the defense looked good at the break, the second half seemed to prove it was more BYU missing shots than anything the Utes were doing.
My fears of BYU coming out of the gate hot in the second half were proven, because that's exactly what they did. They opened the second hitting shot after shot and slowly building a comfortable lead. Utah, on the other hand, missed shot after shot and turned the ball over a dozen times it seemed in a matter of minutes.
Much of this was due to BYU's zone defense. The Utes could not break it down and get the ball into Luke Nevill, who struggled offensively in this game. But since they couldn't hit from anywhere on the court, the Cougars closed off the inside, while waiting for Utah to fall apart trying to get it into Nevill. With no outside shot, their offense faltered and that resulted in a flood of turnovers.
So why did Utah turn the ball over so much? Two words: Luka Drca.
Now I normally don't like to rail on players and I rarely do it, but Drca had 6 turnovers, one more than the entire BYU team had the entire game! And while that wasn't the reason Utah lost (shooting 29% from the field didn't help), it did make their task that much more difficult.
So when Jim Boylen pulled Drca in the second half, with Utah down about ten, what happens? Utah goes on a run and gets back into the game. I don't want to question Boylen's coaching, but why bring him back into the game when you're in striking distance? The team you have on the floor claws its way back into the game and you make a coaching adjustment, bringing in a player who has struggle for most of the night? I don't get that and if someone can explain it, please do, because I think that was a stupid move by Boylen.
Did it cost Utah the game? No, but you never know how things would've developed if he had kept with the players who got Utah back into the game.
With all that said, what does this loss mean for Utah? Well it's unlikely they win an outright championship now, unless they can somehow win at New Mexico or Wyoming wins out at home (knocking off both BYU & the Lobos). It also hurts their seeding in the NCAA Tournament, which makes the next three or four games (assuming they can win a game or two in the conference tournament) very important. If Utah loses to New Mexico, beats TCU and loses in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament, not only does their RPI drop, but so does their seeding.
Oh well. Tough loss to BYU, but now Utah needs to get back on track and figure out a way to win at New Mexico. I'd much rather beat the Cougars in Provo than the Lobos in Albuquerque, but I'll still take a win in The Pit, so let's make it happen!