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Fousseyni Traore sets early tone as BYU outlasts rival Utah in 75-66 win


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PROVO — Fousseyni Traore couldn't be stopped in the opening minutes of the game, and the 14,355 fans at the Marriott Center loved every minute of it.

Aside from the constant "Fous" rumble that filled the arena every time the sophomore from Bamako, Mali, touched the ball, the BYU faithful rang down their support every time Traore made a basket.

And there was a lot to cheer for in the first few minutes of the game as Traore scored the team's first 12 points in a dominant game in the post that Utah struggled to contain before settling in and keeping Traore scoreless the remainder of the first half.

"Fous started out the game terrific," BYU head coach Mark Pope said. 'We were super nervous about him. I had kind of written him off for this game, honestly, because he's had some nagging injuries that have lasted way longer than we thought we would.

"He's super important because he's one of — there's not a lot of things on our team right now that stabilize us, but Fous can stabilize us a little bit. I thought he was terrific tonight."

But BYU borrowed from Greek mythology's Hydra.

Once Utah figured out Traore, another player stepped up and went on a mini scoring run of their own, first with a 5-0 run from Gideon George and then a 12-point first-half explosion by Rudi Williams, who came off the bench Saturday, to give the Cougars a 35-31 halftime lead.

BYU used that first-half momentum to build upon its largest lead of the night (7 points) at the time before stalling midway through the half on a nearly four minute scoring drought. Utah couldn't close the gap and BYU eventually made them pay and took a 15-point lead with just over four minutes left in the game.

It was at that point that Utah woke up from its disjointed night and reeled off four straight buckets to start a 13-1 run to make it a 3-point game with 2:46 left to play. The Cougars stayed firm, though, and reeled off a 5-0 run of their own to eventually pull away for a 75-66 win over rival Utah on Saturday night.

Traore set the early tone, but it was Williams to take the Cougars to the promised land.

Williams finished the night with 26 points, including a late layup to keep pace on Utah (9-3, 2-0 Pac-12), and led all scores in an important Quad I win for BYU (8-5). Traore added 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds, while George had 11 points and Jaxson Robinson finished with 10 points for the Cougars.

"These in-state games are a big deal, and it's not about scoring the points and who's getting the rebounds, it's the little things like diving on the floor, winning 50/50 balls, second-chance points, offensive rebounding and stuff like that — just the ugly stuff," Williams said. 'So I feel like we dominated that part."

The Cougars outrebounded Utah 41-39, had 14 second-chance points and managed 21 points of 14 Utah turnovers to win the "ugly stuff" and keep the Runnin' Utes from making a late comeback. For Pope, it was a real-world example of his team getting better as the season progresses.

"BYU-Utah is a special game; it's just a special rivalry," Pope said. "It's probably the one that will never go away, because it's just so important, so it's special in that sense. ... For us, where we are right now in our season, it took a backseat to us trying to get better. These guys are so hungry to get better; I'm really proud of these guys.

"So the rivalry game is awesome, but right now it's taking a backseat to us just trying to grow into a really good team. These guys took a good step tonight — so proud of them."

For Utah, it was a disappointing showing after a good start to the season after winning only 11 games last year. Utes head coach Craig Smith expected his team to be the aggressor against the Cougars, but the script was flipped and BYU set the early tone with a physicality that Utah couldn't match to start the game.

"Rough night for the Utah," Smith said. "Congrats to BYU. I thought they played outstanding; they're playing well right now. Obviously, we're disappointed in the result. I thought they out-toughed us in every aspect, and I thought their crowd really impacted that game. We just didn't handle some things well; we got sped up, early on they went right to Traore — he had their first 10 points. I didn't think we were the aggressors that way."

"We were disjointed," Carlson added. "Some of it was us, but most of it, I think, is that is not us. We're a better team than that, especially on the defensive end. We've got to play more connected throughout the whole game. We had some stretches where we're doing good and some stretches where we we're just kind of trying to go one-on-one and we need to be better."

Carlson led Utah with 18 points and six rebounds on a night when Utah shot 41% from the field and 20% from 3-point range. Rollie Worster, who went 6-of-13 from the field and 0-of-5 from 3-point range, added 12 points, five assists and three rebounds; and Lazar Stefanovic added 12 points and seven rebounds in the loss.

"I mean, it hurts," Carlson said. "It's definitely not the outcome we wanted it to have, and we're gonna let this sink in for the night — this loss — and we're just gonna continue to get better the next days."

"I thought we just lost some poise and composure," Smith said. "... We're gonna learn from this and grow from this — certainly very, very disappointed. We had a great opportunity tonight but weren't able to pull it out."

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Josh is the Sports Director for KSL.com and beat writer of University of Utah athletics — primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.

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