Ute men’s hoops hit ground runnin’

It was only an exhibition, but in their first game of the season, the Utes lived up to new coach Ray Giacoletti’s promise of higher scoring.

With an 86-62 win over NAIA power Carroll College, Utah compiled more points than they scored in all but one game last season.

“I don’t know if you are ever truly happy with where you are at,” Giacoletti said, holding back from a completely glowing assessment. “But I was pleased.”

At the very least, Giacoletti saw some promising signs for the rest of the season, as the Utes shot a robust 69 percent from the floor.

Returning center Andrew Bogut led the Utes with 19 points and 12 rebounds after starting the game on the bench. The Australian was 8-for-9 from the field, as the vertically challenged Saints had a hard time slowing him down.

While Bogut was expected to continue having a big impact, the Utes got a big game from a more surprising source.

Junior Bryant Markson, always a fine athletic specimen, but a player that looked confined in Majerus’ system, broke through for a career-high 15 points.

“It felt good to get my year started right,” Markson said, “I’m real relaxed. I can just go out there, run and jump all over the place and be myself.”

Markson drained two three-pointers, but the highlight of the night was a put-back dunk on a missed jumper that brought the Huntsman Center crowd to its feet.

Giacoletti wasn’t surprised that Markson and Richard Cheney (16 points) had big games.

“Markson and Cheney could be really good in this system,” Giacoletti said. “We’ve got a lot of people out there who can do big things.”

While Markson’s erratic play seemed to get under the skin of Majerus, thus leaving him on the bench most of the last two seasons, the California native is thankful that Giacoletti gives him a bit more freedom to find his game.

“Back in the day if I had turnovers, I’d be on the bench,” Markson said. “Coach (Giacoletti) just told me to calm down and play. He let me play through my mistakes”

Markson isn’t the only person pleased with the new direction of the team.

“We get a lot more points from what I remember,” point guard Marc Jackson said. Jackson is returning this season after sitting out last year. “It was good to be back. We are going to be exciting.”

Jackson played like he hadn’t missed a game, much less a season. He compiled 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Jackson started at the point in place of injured Tim Drisdom.

“We were getting good looks close to the hoop,” Jackson said, explaining the team’s stellar shooting night. “You don’t get those without your teammates doing the right thing.”

Carroll had a hard time matching up with the bigger Utes, but still managed to create problems with their speed.

“It was difficult to guard them,” Bogut said. “They would just run all over the place and you would never know which direction they would go.”

Andy Brown, the only Saint senior, led the team with 15 points. Dallas Leslie added 14, going 4-for-5 from behind the three point arc.

The Runnin’ Utes return to action next Saturday at noon, when they host Western State College in their final exhibition game.

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