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Utah Edges Out Feisty Wolverines, 87-80

The Utah Utes fended off the Utah Valley Wolverines’ late surge at the Huntsman center on Tuesday night, coming away with a dramatic 87-80 victory over the in-state foe.

SALT LAKE CITY—The Utah Utes fended off the Utah Valley Wolverines’ late surge at the Huntsman center on Tuesday night, coming away with a dramatic 87-80 victory over the in-state foe.

With a fresh lead of two points, Utah guard Parker Van Dyke sank a three-pointer to give his team a five-point lead with 29 seconds left in the game.

“Parker earned it tonight,” said head coach Larry Krystkowiak. “When he took that three, I had this weird vision, because I knew the kid grew up in Salt Lake and watched the Utes, and I knew he’d been sitting courtside in great seats all his life with his grandpa. I thought, ‘man, he’s due.’”

Apparently the basketball gods agreed, as Van Dyke helped the Utes (6-1) pull away from the feisty Wolverines (5-3) in a raucous arena.

Van Dyke has seen a long list of games growing up when a Utah player hits a big shot in a tense moment, and described it as a “special moment” for him individually to now be one of those players.

After being down by as many as 14 points, the Wolverines took a 76-75 lead with 2:44 left in the game when Conner Toolson made the Wolverines’ tenth three-pointer, taking the air out of the loudest Huntsman Center crowd of the season. UVU extended their lead over the Utes to three when Brandon Randolph made a jump shot, but Tyler Rawson responded with his second three-pointer to set up Van Dyke’s triple.

“A little bit of—well, not a little bit—a lot of credit goes to [UVU],” said Krystkowiak. “They’ve been down double-digit leads in three of their games … and we knew they weren’t going to go away.”

Utah didn’t go away either. JoJo Zamora was asked to make the biggest free throws of the young season for the Utes when his team was clinging to a three-point lead as time was winding down. Zamora went 4-4 from the line, helping his team to a total of 75% for the game.

“We played a great game,” said UVU coach Mark Pope. “We completed like we have proven so far in the season. As a coach, I need to do better for my guys. … There’s a lot of stuff we left on the table that we could have done better.”

Coming into the game, the Wolverines were averaging 36% from three-point range for the season, scoring an average of 84.3 points per game, featuring a speedy offensive tempo. Utah picked their poison, prioritizing stopping UVU’s outside attack, and focused less on stopping the Wolverines inside. At halftime, UVU was just 2-8 from downtown, while center Isaac Neilson racked up 16 points.

However, with a strong defensive effort, the Utes were missing opportunities on the offensive end, and took a considerable amount of time to settle into their offense. “It was horrible,” Krystkowiak said. “I really got a little fired up at halftime.”

Utah responded early in the second half, slowing down Neilson and gaining a 14-point lead at one point. But the Utes weren’t safe, as guard Jordan Poydras heated up, sinking back-to-back triples as part of a 9-0 Wolverine run in the second half to get UVU back in the game. Neilson followed suit, coming away with clutch rebounds and strong putbacks to give his team key second chances.

Kyle Kuzma called Neilson’s 28 points and 15 rebounds a “remarkable” performance. “He had a hellava game.”

“Isaac Neilson, what he has done in his first handful of games is extraordinary,” said Pope. “I am really, really proud of him. He has gone through some really hard things and things that would break a lot of guys. He didn’t.”

Former Ute and sharpshooter Kenneth Ogbe, who transferred during the offseason, was quiet on the floor, only accounting for three points in 23 minutes. Kuzma said the two former teammates didn’t have a long exchange after the game, but the Utah forward simply told Ogbe he loved him. Ogbe received a cheer from the crowd as his name was called in the starting lineup before the game.

Utah will now focus on the Xavier Musketeers, who they will face in Cincinnati on Saturday. Tipoff will be at 3:30 p.m. with pregame coverage starting at 1:30 on ESPN 700. The game will be televised on Fox.

Larry Krystkowiak Postgame Press Conference:

Kyle Kuzma, Parker Van Dyke Postgame Press Conference:

Parker Van Dyke Radio Network Postgame:

Tommy Connor Postgame:

Mark Pope ESPN 960 Radio Postgame:

Highlights:


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