Win against BYU gives U momentum

By By Nick Pappas

By Nick Pappas

I watched the waning minutes of the Utah versus the New Mexico Lobos game Saturday afternoon. The Utes had characteristically fought back from turnovers and droughts that would make a camel thirsty, but it came down to one last shot.

It always comes down to one last shot.

It did against Cal, and the crowd left the Huntsman Center shaking their heads and tearing up their game tickets. I walked with my head down to the TRAX station that night and left my ears open. Older and younger fans alike talked about a team that couldn’t finish8212;a team they expected to lose when the score was close.

It changed against BYU.

Luka Drca gave the Cougars a chance to win in the end after taking a shot six seconds too early, and the hot air was drained as fans held their breath. When Jonathan Tavernari’s shot clanged off the backboard, we finally, after three years, had a chance to exhale.

It could have been a fluke.

It could have been luck or the leftover shine from Utah’s embarrassment of the Cougars in football. The New Mexico game Saturday showed that it wasn’t. After Lawrence Borha hit a desperation floater to take the lead with time remaining for the Lobos, the same feelings came back. Were these the Utes who abused us every year, or the Utes who met us on the court against the Cougars, knees down, begging for another chance?

A few seconds and a missed 3-pointer later, the team was 5-2, sitting high in the Mountain West Conference and even higher in our hearts. Not only that, they had the momentum of a rocket car on the salt flats. They fed off the emotions of the crowd, and filled their stomachs with hope.

Halfway through the game, the screen flashed Utah’s all-time home record. In the Huntsman Center, the Utes are .802, an amazing statistic. Out of every 10 teams unfortunate enough to venture to the Wasatch Front, two are fortunate enough to heat up their bus better than when they arrived.

Granted, Utah isn’t the same basketball school they’ve been in the past, but word of mouth travels quickly. Fans are catching on. The bandwagon is filling up, and I’m reaching out a hand to whoever wants to ride. This team needs support. They need the history of the Huntsman to help them to the finish line.

I walked out of the arena with my hands in my pockets and my head up, this time toward the Union to drop off my press pass. I was among smiles and pride, fans who seemed to remember a time when the Utes were a team that perennially played until March, and often deep into the tournament.

“The best part about that win,” one man said to his wife, “was that (Luke) Nevill didn’t even have a great game. Other players are really starting to impress me this year.”

Young players like freshman Jordan Cyphers. Past abusers like Carlon Brown and Tyler Kepkay. Although BYU made the mistake of unlocking Nevill from his usual cage, most teams will double-, triple- and even quadruple-team the 7-footer. The Utes will go as far as the role players will carry them.

As long as this momentum rolls on, it should carry the Utes all the way to the NCAA tournament.

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Nick Pappas