Majerus Not Happy With U’s Poor Play

The final score read 74-55 in the Utah men’s basketball team’s season-opening win Friday. The Utes’ game against NAIA opponent St. Francis was tied once in the early going at 2-2, but the Utes held a double-digit lead from the 10:37 mark in the first half until the game’s end.

So why was coach Rick Majerus so critical of his team following the win?

Senior center Chris Burgess summed up his coach’s sentiments. “We shouldn’t play to our opponent, we should play to get better,” he said. “Give St. Francis credit. They were a scrappy team and were well coached, but we’ve got to go out and play no matter who we’re playing.”

The Utes jumped out to a 14-6 advantage, but a Jason Norberg trey cut the lead to 14-9 with 12:57 in the first half.

A Travis Spivey three and a Cameron Koford put-back capped an 8-0 run to extend Utah’s lead to 22-9. Still, the Saints were in striking distance at 41-26 at halftime.

To start the second half, St. Francis scored the first four points to cut the lead to 41-30.

“We were worrying too much about offense. [The Saints players] got too many easy baskets,” said sophomore swingman Nick Jacobson, who scored 16 points on 6-11 shooting on the game.

From there, the Utes went on a 21-4 run. The second of two Phil Cullen free throws extended Utah’s lead to 28, its largest of the game, at 62-34.

But the Saints hung around for the final 9:23. A steal and layup by Saints point guard Bob St. Leger completed an 11-2 St. Francis run to cut the lead to 70-52.

A minute later, the horn sounded with Utah the victor 74-55.

The overall effort did not please Majerus. “It’s hard to find positives,” he said. “[St. Francis] is a small school with limited resources, but they came to play hard.

“I would like to see an excitement to defend,” Majerus said. The coach pointed toward the St. Francis dribble penetration and a lack of communication and intensity on the defensive end.

St. Leger broke down Utah’s defense for seven assists and 16 points to lead the Saints (2-4).

St. Francis also got a lift from last year’s Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Honorable Mention honoree Nick Cardone. The 6-foot-6 forward led the team with 18 points on 6-7 shooting from the field, 5-5 from the free throw stripe.

Still, Utah’s defense forced 21 Saints turnovers. St. Francis did shoot 47.5 percent from the field, but that mark came on just 40 shots, compared to Utah’s 56.

Utah was sharper on the offensive side. The Utes got a lot of layups under the hoop off curl cuts. In addition, Utah’s Burgess showed agility with a drop-step spin move on the low block.

“I got good catches. I didn’t think anyone could block my shot. I go up against 7-foot Cameron Koford in practice, so it was easier to get my shot off,” said Burgess, who finished with 20 points and 4 boards. “The difference was that I wanted the ball?I didn’t do that in the last two exhibition games.”

But his coach pointed out the obvious. “Yeah, but he’s playing against a 6-foot-4 post guy,” Majerus said.

Burgess’s backup at the 5-spot, the 6-foot-11 Koford, contributed 8 points and 7 rebounds, but turned the ball over 6 times. The size advantage contributed to 42 points in the paint and 14 second-chance points.

But the scoring with the definite height advantage overshadowed the big picture?the defensive miscues.

“We’ll play teams with more size and more ability,” Jacobson said. “These mistakes will cost us later.”

Utah hosts Boise State Nov. 20 and Utah State Nov. 23 to conclude a three-game homestand.

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