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Utah eyeing a place among elites

Utah's first win at BYU since 2005 is one of many "first since" moments it is poised to have this season. And the way the Utes look now, that will include their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

For seven straight times, the Utes left Provo with losses since their last win their on Jan. 31, 2005. But Wednesday's 65-61 victory quickly erased those bad memories and has them looking forward to what lies ahead.

No. 10 Kansas awaits the No. 13 Utes in a (not-so) neutral site game in Kansas City on Saturday. It will be Utah's second top-10 opponent in three games. Utah survived then-No. 8 Wichita State last week in overtime.

With a win over the Jayhawks, Utah could conceivably catapult from unranked in the preseason into the top 10 next week. Its current rank is already the highest since being No. 13 in the Associated Press poll on Feb. 21, 2005.

This team is starting to have the look and feel of the Utah teams during the Rick Majerus era: a superstar talent in Delon Wright, who posted a double-double 18 points and 11 rebounds against BYU; a workman-like big man in freshman Jakob Poeltl; and an understated toughness that they are going to keep battling.

So far, Utah is winning the pressure games it wilted under last season.The Utes lost eight games by four points or fewer last season -- including three in overtime -- which contributed to keeping them from receiving an at-large NCAA bid.

The other reason they missed the tournament was a soft nonconference schedule. So far they've solved both of those problems this season. The Utes played a true road game the third game of the season at No. 18 San Diego State, where they suffered their only loss, 53-49.

The tight wins still aren't coming as clean as Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak would probably want them.

Against BYU, the Utes turned the ball over up four with 65 seconds left, but fortunately for them Anson Winder couldn't control it and lost it out of bounds. With a chance to push their lead to six, Brandon Taylor missed a pair of free throw attempts with 43 seconds left. Taylor had entered the game 18-of-19 from the line this season.

Luckily for Utah, the nation's third leading scorer, Tyler Haws, missed a 3-point that could have tied it with 30 seconds left.

Utah can continue to clean up those things. What put the Utes in a position to win was their defense.

Haws, who averages 24.4 points, did manage to secure a game-high 23 points. But the Utes harassed him into just 9-of-22 shooting from the field, which was well below his season average of 51.1 percent.

The Cougars leading 3-point shooter, Chase Fischer, who averaged 43.2 percent from behind the arc, tied a season-low with three points on just 1-of-5 shooting. As a team, Utah held BYU to a season-low 36 percent shooting from the field.

Before the showdown with Kansas, the Utes will savor this one for a minute. It's as big as a December rivalry game can be. The schools didn't meet on the gridiron this season in a clash of the century-long "Holy War" rivalry, so the hardwood has to suffice.

Krystkowiak broke out his good red jacket. BYU dusted off its powder blue uniforms, a nod to its old-school look.

Krystkowiak riled up the Cougars fan base after the Utes upset Wichita State last week. He remarked Utah's schedule hit its stretch of "five elite teams I think. Well, four and a half if you count BYU, I guess."

It turns out Utah is making the bid to be considered an elite team. It's been a while since anyone has said that.