BYU is learning how to win games when it doesn’t play at its best for 40 minutes. Utah coach Jim Boylen is still waiting for his team to play a full 40 minutes.
The 11th-ranked Cougars seek their seventh straight victory Tuesday night when they visit intrastate and Mountain West Conference rival Utah, which is hoping to avoid its longest losing streak in more than half a century.
BYU (16-1, 2-0) appeared disjointed at times in Saturday’s 76-66 victory over Air Force.
Jimmer Fredette scored 22 points, slightly below his average of 24.9, but the Cougars shot 42.1 percent overall and 30.0 percent from 3-point range. Those were their worst percentages since hitting 37.3 and 26.9, respectively, in a 72-66 win Dec. 21 at Weber State that started their current win streak.
“They sped us up a little bit and we didn’t shoot the ball as well as we’re capable of, but it was another one of those wins where our guys found a way to win, and that’s really important,” coach Dave Rose said.
The victory came three days after BYU overcame a 10-point deficit in the first half to beat then-No. 25 UNLV.
Fredette had 39 points in that win but was held in check Saturday, going 6 for 14 from the field though he did score 13 in the second half. The senior has averaged 18.7 points in six games versus the Utes, including 36 in an 82-69 victory Jan. 30.
Utah, though, did hold Fredette to eight on 1-for-7 shooting in a 71-51 home loss March 3.
Point guard Jordan Emery will pass Danny Ainge as the school’s all-time leader in steals with one more. Emery, who entered this week second among Division I players with 47 steals this season, has 195 overall and recorded 10 of them in BYU’s current three-game win streak versus the Utes.
Boylen is trying to be optimistic as Utah (7-9, 0-2) tries to halt a six-game losing streak, its worst since a six-game skid in 2006-07 - the season before he took over. The Utes haven’t had a longer one since dropping seven straight from Jan. 27-Feb. 10, 1950.
They’re playing a second consecutive ranked opponent after hanging tough with No. 6 San Diego State on Saturday in a 71-62 home loss as Josh Watkins scored 24 points and Will Clyburn added 17 and 10 rebounds.
“I think in our nine losses we have played 32 to 34 minutes,” Boylen said. “We have to handle it better in the second half when a team makes a run. I have some guys that want to do it so bad that when that team makes the run, they try to do it on their own. And we have coached it and talked about and we are going to keep working on it.
“We have to play a complete game.”
Clyburn has been the only Utah player doing that on a consistent basis. The junior forward has reached double figures in scoring in all 16 games, has five double-doubles and is averaging team highs of 18.8 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Boylen is also hoping freshman swingman J.J. O’Brien can deliver another solid effort. He had season highs of six points and 10 rebounds Saturday, leaving the coach “encouraged.”
BYU’s recent win streak has evened the all-time series at 125 wins each. The Cougars have won seven of eight, with Utah’s lone victory coming 94-88 in overtime Jan. 27, 2009, in Salt Lake City.