The Utah football team started the day with a win, and the Runnin' Utes basketball team finished the day with another, 59-46 against the hometown UNLV Runnin' Rebels. By Sunday morning, the Mountain West Conference was happy Utah was leaving Las Vegas.
Senior guard Delon Wright led the Runnin' Utes with 17 points, four rebounds, and four steals. Wright had one of his worst shooting performances, making just 5-of-16 shots (31.3 percent) and missing several layups. He was 1-for-3 from behind the three-point line and shot just 6-of-11 from the free throw line (54.5 percent). However, his defense was stellar, and his four steals came at critical times in the game, turning the first half from a deficit into a 1-point half-time lead.
Utah's defense was solid through most of the game, even while big Austrian center Jakob Poeltl suffered through most of the game with foul trouble. Brandon Taylor sealed the game in the final minute with two of his game-high six steals, including the final theft that led to his runout and layup for the final victory margin. (UNLV recorded six steals as a team.) Taylor also finished with 16 points, three rebounds, and three assists. Utah's pressure man-to-man defense forced UNLV into 15 turnovers (the Utes had 10), which led to 11 points for Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak's team.
On the offensive end, Utah's shooting was... well... offensive. The Utes shot an abysmal 28 percent from the field in the first half on 7-of-25. Utah managed to raise that percentage to 39.6 by the end of the game by shooting a much better 50 percent (14-of-28) in the second half. Some of the Utes offensive struggles could be attributed to Poeltl's early foul trouble keeping him out for much of the first half, as well as UNLV's dominance over the painted area. UNLV finished the game outrebounding the taller Utes 41-37 and scored 28 points in the paint compared to Utah's 22. However, Utah's improved depth was on display in this game, as the Pac-12 Utes held a 12-7 advantage in bench scoring over the Rebels.
While the Rebels did a good job of limiting Poeltl, who finished with just eight points and four rebounds, starting power forward Chris Reyes pulled down 10 rebounds. The Austrian 7-footer never got into a rhythm and managed only seven field goal attempts, but he did get involved with a couple of baskets during Utah's game-clinching run in the second half.
Freshman forward Brekkott Chapman gave Coach K 19 solid minutes, scoring seven points, grabbing three rebounds, snatching two steals, and blocking a shot. Foul trouble limited Chapman, but his timely baskets helped keep the Utes in the game.
Rebels' leading scorer Rashad Vaughn managed to uphold his scoring average with 16 points to lead UNLV. However, Vaughn was limited to just 6-of-16 shooting (37.5 percent), 0-of-2 from behind the three-point arc. Second leading scorer Christian Wood (13 points per game) was held to just eight.
Utah improves to 8-2 on the season, and nearly evens their series record against UNLV to 23-24. The Rebels drop to 7-3. Next up for the No. 14-ranked Runnin' Utes is a Dec. 23 date at home in the Jon M. Huntsman Center hosting South Dakota State at 7 p.m. MT., one of two remaining non-conference games before the Pac-12 season begins Jan. 2.