No. 12 BYU built a big lead early, then held off the Utes in the final five minutes for an 82-69 win on Saturday night, the Cougars' sixth victory in the last seven meetings.
"I think it was probably what most people expect to see when they come to a game like this," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "You've got two teams playing really hard and players making plays."
Utah hacked away at an 18-point lead and trimmed it to four before Jimmer Fredette and the Cougars thwarted the comeback.
Fredette led the Cougars with 36 points, including 23 in the second half as he shut down Utah's rally almost all by himself. Fredette hit two 3-pointers and then converted a three-point play as BYU (21-2, 6-1 Mountain West) rebuilt the lead with a 14-2 run late in the second half to wrap up the victory.
"We played good defense and we limited them to one shot after that," Fredette said. "We were able to get it back up to 12 or so and just kind of cruise for the rest of the game."
Tyler Haws added 15 points and seven rebounds, and Jackson Emery finished with eight points, seven rebounds and six steals for BYU.
It was an appropriately physical game for the Beehive State rivalry. Players from both teams had to be separated after a scuffle on the baseline with 34 seconds left.
Emery and Utah's Marshall Henderson had some words before an inbounds play after the Cougars had already wrapped up the win. Henderson flailed his arm as he walked away from Emery, who appeared to take the shot right on the chin and went down hard.
BYU's Jonathan Tavernari immediately went after Henderson and had to be held back as both benches emptied. It took a few minutes for the officials to sort it out as the coaches corralled their own players and got them back to the bench to keep the tension from escalating.
"Guys were playing hard. It was a mistake by my guy," Utah coach Jim Boylen said. "We've got a great rivalry. Things happen."
Henderson was ejected for a flagrant foul and both teams were calmed down enough by the end to complete the postgame handshake without further trouble.
Jay Watkins led the Utes (10-11, 3-4) with a career-high 18 points and 11 rebounds, scoring 13 in the second half as Utah got more aggressive on both ends of the floor and got back in the game. Henderson, who was escorted to the locker room to keep any overzealous BYU fans from retaliating, scored 16.
The Cougars were coming off a 76-72 loss at No. 23 New Mexico on Wednesday, ending BYU's 15-game winning streak. Rose said he was pleased to see how the Cougars came out quickly on Saturday and with the way Fredette took over and finished off the Utes.
Fredette spent the first part of the month battling mononucleosis, but has been rebuilding his strength and has averaged 32 points over the last three games.
"He really played within himself late in the game when I know he was tired. They had done a really good job on him," Rose said. "That's something that is good to know with what he's been through in the last month. He dug pretty deep tonight to find another gear and help his team win."
After shooting 50 percent in the first half, BYU was just 13 for 32 in the second and Utah slowly chipped away at the lead.
Henderson made a 3-pointer to get the Utes within 64-58, then Watkins got inside for a layup to cut the margin to four, but that was as close as it got.
"We felt that the momentum was on our side," Watkins said. "Fredette made a couple of big shots to stretch the lead back out to double digits and we couldn't get it back after that."
Haws got a shot to bounce in, then Fredette scored nine straight points for the Cougars, including a 3-pointer that put BYU up 75-63.
"The guy had a great night," Boylen said. "We did a good job on him. He made great plays."
BYU's white home uniforms were lined with pink trim and the Cougars wore pink basketball shoes in support of Coaches vs. Cancer. Coaches from both teams were wearing sneakers with their suits as part of the campaign to raise awareness to fight the disease.
Rose, who had a cancerous tumor removed from his abdomen last summer, said he was glad to take part.
"I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity," Rose said. "I'm not very good at expressing my feelings, but I know that I am very fortunate right now."