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With ups and downs, rallies and droughts, and one memorable punch thrown in, even Larry Krystkowiak called Wednesday night Utah-BYU contest "about three different games."
What looked like a blowout got more competitive than the Runnin' Utes might've liked. But Utah (6-1) still pulled out an 83-75 win at the Huntsman Center, despite giving up most of a 23-point halftime lead to their most bitter instate rival, BYU (4-2).
No surprise: It fell to Jakob Poeltl to carry them down the stretch.
The 7-foot sophomore center dominated the game with 26 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks, an unstoppable centerpiece to Utah's early cruising and later, their foul-muddled struggles. With hooks, spins and and a yawning paint presence, he was an unsolvable puzzle for the Cougars.
The Cougars had plenty of second-half shots including a literal one that got freshman guard Nick Emery ejected but down the stretch, Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak leaned on experience. Poeltl scored Utah's last three field goals, and the Utes went with a senior-heavy lineup to reel in their third straight win of the series.
"We all know how good Jakob is, that's where the ball has to go," junior guard Kenneth Ogbe said. "We get open threes because of him. He's an NBA guy. He's our most important player."
That wasn't to say other Utes didn't have a hand in win: Three others, including Ogbe receiving his first start of the year, scored in double figures.
The Utes looked like they would run away with a whipping at home, but handed over the crop at halftime. The Cougars flew out of the locker room on a 15-2 run, fueled by 12 Chase Fischer points.
The Utes went stagnant on offense, not scoring a field goal until five minutes in. Krystkowiak said his team got a little enamored with their 3-point shots and stopped looking for Poeltl. It got as close as seven points with more than 10 minutes to go.
Fortunes changed again when the Utes went back to him, and some timely defense helped seal it. The Cougars were 1 for 10 during a crucial 8-minute stretch.
"Jakob does a nice job in the post," Krystkowiak said. "They played him straight up for a number of possessions tonight, and he did exactly what he needed to do: He slowed down. On a couple occasions they did double him, he did a good job finding some shooters."
Passions flared before the final buzzer after Emery appeared to hit senior guard Brandon Taylor deliberately with an arm across his chin on an off-ball play. Krystkowiak was livid, shouting in the direction of the BYU bench, and the fan uproar earned the crowd a technical foul as Emery was ejected with a flagrant foul.
Krystkowiak and Taylor both branded it a "dirty play" after the game, a fire-stoking moment in a physical game featuring 46 combined fouls, most in the second half.
BYU coach Dave Rose acknowledged after the game he felt more punishment could be coming Emery's way.
The early going was all in Utah's favor. Said Krystkowiak: "I don't know we could play much better."
While the game got out to a blistering start familiar to BYU, the torrid pace benefited the Utes. Poeltl looked every part of one of the country's best centers as he scored 12 points in the first 12 minutes of the game including a dunk over Cougar forward Kyle Davis and the Utes led by double digits early.
The Cougars countered with inside double-teams, but Utah's shooters were hot, too. On one 12-0 run, the Utes hit three 3-pointers, and totaled 8 for the half. Taylor punctuated the first 20 minutes with a 3-pointer as time expired, his second halftime buzzer-beater this season.
Even though it was closer than expected, the Utes still left their home floor feeling good. After taking a black eye and beating their rival, why not?
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't nice," Krystkowiak said.
R Jakob Poeltl leads Utah with 26 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
• Utes hit eight first half 3-pointers to take control
• Chase Fischer scores all 26 of his points in the second half to lead BYU