SALT LAKE CITY — In its toughest test of the early season, the University of Utah men’s basketball team fought through some second-half adversity to claim a 73-69 win over the visiting Minnesota Golden Gophers on Friday.
The Utes needed some end-of-game heroics to claim a win, but the young Utah (3-0) team made some clutch free throws at the end of the game to seal the narrow victory over a Big Ten opponent.
The win is Utah's first over a Big Ten team since Dec. 9, 2009 — a 68-52 win over Michigan. It was also U. head coach Larry Krystkowiak's 200th win of his career.
"It's not anything of value to me. It has a lot to do about the kids and being at this university," Krystkowiak said. "To me it says that somebody has believed in me for long enough to get 200 wins, to be around.
"When we lose, I understand who takes the fall; and when we win, I understand who gets the game balls and all that stuff," he added. "But a lot of it is because of the coaching staff and the people that we have around us."
Utah opened up the game with the hot hand and outscored Minnesota 16-0 before the Golden Gophers hit their first bucket of the game, a 3-pointer at the top of the key, at the 16-minute mark. Utah used a 24-14 advantage in the paint to overwhelm Minnesota with early buckets and take control of the game.
The Golden Gophers cut into the Utes' lead, largely due to a two-minute scoring drought and shuffled rotation on the court, to six points just before the half after trailing by as many as 16. Minnesota only shot 33% from the field in the first half, but used five 3-pointers to close the gap on the young Utah team.
Minnesota jumped out in the second half and cut Utah’s lead to one point as turnovers started to mount for the Utes, but despite the sloppy play from Utah, the Golden Gophers could never capitalize on the opportunity because of several missed shooting attempts.
The Utes built up a 10-point lead behind a Jaxon Brenchley 3-pointer sandwiched between two Rylan Jones 3-pointers, but turnovers again reared their head for Utah. The Utes managed five turnovers over a five-minute period, which coincided with a Utah scoring drought that allowed the Golden Gophers to cut Utah’s lead to one point again.
"I thought the offensive mistakes and ill-advised shots took some of the life out of the building and gave them a little spurt at their end, and they got flowing a little bit," Krystkowiak said. "I think we always need to know how defense affects offense, offense affects defense."
But, again, Utah battled back as sophomore Timmy Allen took charge in the final minutes of the game, including a key transition dunk that ignited the crowd at the Huntsman Center, and lifted the Utes to a victory to stay undefeated on the season.
Allen had a team-high 19 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Allen, who shot 8 of 15 from the field and 3 of 4 from the free-throw line, was one of four players in double figures for the Utes.
Sophomore guard Both Gach also notched 19 points in the win on 5-of-9 shooting and a perfect 7 of 7 from the charity stripe. Gach's free throws at the end gave Utah enough of a cushion to hold off the Golden Gophers.
Minnesota was led in scoring by Daniel Oturu's 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. The sophomore center from Minnesota managed 16 points in the first half, but Utah's defense limited him to only five points in the second half.
"We didn't do a whole lot. I know that we did a better job of blocking him out — that was one of the big keys," Krystkowiak said. "But, I think, at the end of the day, we don't want to give ourselves too much credit for it because he was a monster tonight and I think he, more than anything, he probably ran out of gas there late in the fight."
Utah returns to action Thursday, Nov. 21, in the Myrtle Beach Invitational. The Utes will square off with Coastal Carolina at 5 p.m. MST. The Utes will play two more games in the invitational, though matchups will be determined by game results.