Men’s Basketball on a Roll

By and

It was a fruitful Christmas break for the Utah men’s basketball team?in terms of the win column. However, the fall of Utah’s Goliath may have thrown a wrench into the team chemistry as the Utes head into Mountain West Conference play Jan. 12.

With the 63-57 squeaker over the Whitworth College Pirates Wednesday night, Utah extended its win streak to six games following a sub-par 3-3 start.

But amid the string of wins came a significant loss. Senior center Chris Burgess tore his plantar fascia ligament in his right foot Dec. 29 against Texas. Burgess will miss at least the next month, and is possibly out for the season.

The shame of the matter is that Burgess was coming into his own on the court.

Burgess shined in Utah’s first game of the break. Troy State’s zone defense was unsuccessful in stopping the center, who tallied 22 points and 11 rebounds.

“I was feeling better and quicker (around the basket). It’s all about believing in yourself,” he said.

Utah’s sharpshooters opened up the inside with a barrage of 3-balls. Utah shot 12-21 (57.1 percent) for the game. Nick Jacobson hit 4-4 treys and scored 18 points, and Trace Caton hit 4-6 for 14 points.

In its only away game of the six-game break, Utah bounced Ogden rival Weber State 70 59.

Despite Utah jumping out to an 18-4 lead seven minutes in, Weber State took a 34-33 halftime lead.

No team took command in the second, as the game was in Utah’s favor 55-54 with 7:16 left.

Utah’s defense decided to take charge. The Utes held the Wildcats without a field goal for six of the last seven minutes, and Jacobson shook off a scoreless first half with 8 of his 11 points in that same span.

The Johnsen tandem of Britton and Jeff posted 33 points (Britton led all scorers with 21) and 10 rebounds. Burgess added 6 points and 6 rebounds, and Travis Spivey had 8 points and 7 assists for the Utes.

The Utes returned home Dec. 18 looking to avenge last year’s defeat to Southern Utah University.

Utah did, and in convincing fashion. The Utes took control 18-2 to start the game and led 39-15 at half. Caton scored all of his 16 points in the first half, and Utah held SUU to 27.3 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes.

In the second half, Utah’s bench was unloaded and the U cruised to a 71-47 win. Burgess tallied 15 points and 14 rebounds, and led Utah to a convincing 41-26 rebound margin. Jacobson added 11 points and Eric Osmundson handed out a career-high 6 assists.

In the next game versus Idaho State, Utah used a 14-4 run to blow open a 16-12 lead. After a Trace Caton three with 6:55 left in the first, Utah led 30-16. The Bengals cut the halftime lead to 35-26, but Burgess’s inside game and free throw shooting led to a 75-58 win.

The center had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks. At one point in the second half, the under-50 percent free throw shooter hit nine consecutive shots from the charity stripe.

Jacobson added 16 and Britton Johnsen 11 in the win.

Utah played again at home in its biggest game of the break against Texas. The Longhorns entered with a six-game winning streak and a 7-3 record.

The game was as good as advertised, but was overshadowed by injuries to Burgess and Texas’s leading scorer and rebounder, Chris Owens. Burgess tore a ligament five minutes into the game and Owens left after 10 minutes with a knee injury.

Still, the Utes held a 40-32 halftime lead after a 10-1 run. The lead grew to 52-40 after consecutive threes by Jacobson and Phil Cullen, but a Deginald Erskin follow pulled the Longhorns to 58-56 with 3:39 to go.

However a layup by Jeff Johnsen and 15-footer by Jacobson pushed the lead to 6. Texas went cold from the field and Utah won 71-61.

But after the high came the low Jan. 2. In what coach Rick Majerus called “playing with low character,” an undersized, Division III Whitworth team outrebounded Utah 32-21 and had 6 more points in the paint.

A steal and break-away reverse jam by Pirate Gunner Olsen narrowed the Utah lead to 48-46 with 9:11 left before the Utes eked out the 63-57 win.

The injury to Burgess couldn’t have come at a worse time. Utah has one more game before conference play. A matchup Jan. 7 with St. Mary’s in Moraga, Calif., is the only thing standing between Utah and its MWC opener with UNLV Jan. 12.

“I feel badly for Chris. He was playing very well and very hard,” Majerus said. “I’m not optimistic…it’s not like he can do anything to speed up the healing process. There’s nothing he can do to make it get better quicker.”

Utah will file a medical hardship in an attempt to get Burgess another senior season. For the time being, Majerus said his replacement will be determined on a game by-game basis.

[email protected]