Can’t touch this: No. 13 Utes battle BYU to 69-60 win, capture first conference crown since 2001

It wasn’t easy, but the No. 13 Runnin’ Utes (24-4, 12-1 MWC) had enough firepower to overcome their scrappy rivals from down south, defeating BYU (9-19, 3-10) 69-60 Saturday afternoon in the Huntsman Center.

After the win, the Utes cut down the nets in front of a sold-out Huntsman Center crowd, celebrating their first regular season Mountain West Conference championship since 2001.

The Utes secured the title in a win at Air Force last week, but were presented with the trophy following the win over the Cougars.

“Each one of these seasons is a journey,” U coach Ray Giacoletti said after leading his team to the conference crown in his first season. “You have good times and tough times. To get to a point in the road where you can do something like that is really special. [The team’s] hard work was rewarded today.”

Andrew Bogut scored 26 points to go with 13 rebounds, as BYU’s big men could do little but hack the Aussie center.

“A lot of teams just try to come at Bogut with all the big guys they got and use all their fouls,” Ute forward Justin Hawkins said. “They try to beat him up and get him frustrated.”

In all, the Cougars committed 28 fouls, with Austin Ainge, Jimmy Balderson and Brock Reichner all departing with five. Starting center Derek Dawes had the unfortunate stat at the end of the first half, committing three fouls in three minutes played.

Hawkins himself had a big game, scoring 17 of his career-high 21 points in the second half, most on wide-open looks under the basket.

“The defense was making bad reads,” Hawkins said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had that many dunks in college.”

It was the third time this season that the Utes had two players score 20 or more points in a game.

For a while, it looked like the nets would get a stay of execution.

BYU came out on fire, and paired with the Utes’ offensive ineptitude, the Cougars looked poised for an upset.

After Ute forward Richard Chaney hit a jumper to tie the game at two, the Utes went without a field goal for 10 and a half minutes, while BYU built a lead that at one point reached 11.

“[BYU] hit some big shots early,” Giacoletti said. “We kind of panicked and got impatient offensively.”

Going to the free throw line often would keep the Utes in the game. Once the U field goals started falling, the Cougs could only watch as the Utes caught up.

The frustration reached its peak with 5:56 to go in the first half. The Cougars had their lead trimmed to four after a coast-to-coast Jermaine Calvin layup and foul. Ainge shoved Ute guard Marc Jackson, prompting much jawing and pushing between the teams.

The incident resulted in technical fouls for both Ainge and Bogut, and the officials warned both teams about future outbreaks of rivalry agressiveness.

“We were both playing physical,” Hawkins said. “The same thing happened the last time we played them.”

A layup with four seconds left tied the game at 29, and the Cougs would not lead again.

BYU managed to hang around for most of the second half, aided by timely three-point shots. But with the Cougar defense stymied by the Bogut and Hawkins show, they could not catch up.

The Utes finish out the regular season on Saturday, when San Diego State visits the Huntsman Center at 1 p.m.

Marc Jackson will be honored as the Utes’ lone departing senior.

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