Rudi can’t fail: Williams powers BYU men’s hoops past Utah in 75-66 statement win

Fourteen days ago, after a Rudi Williams missed three-pointer brought an end to BYU’s ultra-frustrating 69-68 loss to South Dakota, it felt as if Williams was miserably out of place within the Cougar rotation.

It was just Williams’ ninth game at BYU, yet plenty of fans were ready to write off the Coastal Carolina transfer.

No wonder patience is a virtue.

Saturday, just two weeks following his failure against the Coyotes, Williams achieved legendary status within “Holy War” lore with 26 points off the bench in a commanding 75-66 BYU win over arch-rival Utah.

“Whether I’m coming off the bench or starting, I’m still trying to lead this team and trying to be aggressive with the ball in my hands,” Williams said. “I still do the same stuff I’ve always done.”

Fouss Traore — returning to the starting lineup from injury — opened the contest with BYU’s first 10 points, finishing the night with 17 along with eight rebounds while dealing with Utah’s leading scorer in Branden Carlson on defense.

“I thought he started out terrific tonight,” head coach Mark Pope said. “I was nervous about (him returning from injury), but he did really well. He was really good around the rim tonight, which is important because he stabilizes this team.”

BYU’s defense gave one of its best efforts all season, forcing 14 Ute turnovers, swatting five blocks, winning the rebound battle and holding Utah to a paltry 4-20 mark from behind the arc.

“It was a short turnaround to prepare for this game, but we had two good prep days leading up to it,” Williams said. “The coaches emphasized in our preparation how good of a team they are and how well they shoot the ball.. we did a good job locking those guys up and executing the game plan.”

Utah shot just 38% from the field and 15% from deep in the second half, allowing the Cougars to maintain their lead and earn their third straight win over the Utes under Pope.

“Our guys did a heck of a job just staying down in stance and making catch and shoot threes really difficult to come by,” assistant coach Cody Fueger said. “The guys were communicating and did an unbelievable job.”

Gideon George and Jaxson Robinson scored 11 and 10 points each, with Dallin Hall adding eight points, five assists, six boards, two steals and posting a +/- of +21 to lead the team.

“The BYU vs. Utah rivalry is always a special game, it’s one that will never go away because it is so important,” Pope said. “It’s definitely fun for the fans which is super important for us. This team has been hungry to get better, and I’m really proud of these guys for what they accomplished tonight.”

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