Saturday night five

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

The U men’s basketball team avenged one of its worst losses of last year and captured its most impressive win this year by beating Washington State 69-55 at home Saturday night, handing the Cougars (7-1) their first loss of the season.

The Utes used solid defense, the hot hand of Shaun Green and a little help from the Godfather of Soul–James Brown–to stretch their winning streak to three games after the Utes dropped their first three games of the 2006-07 campaign.

“I don’t know if you guys know this, but James Brown has a song called ‘The Big Payback,'” U guard Johnnie Bryant said. “The corps that’s back, we had a little chip on our shoulder and we had to get ’em, and tonight we got it done.”

Leading the way for the Utes (3-3) was Green, who tied a school record in three-point percentage by going 5-for-5 from the three-point range. Green also matched a career-high in scoring by finishing the night with 17 points.

“I felt like every time I shot the ball it was going to go in,” Green said. “Once again, I have to credit my teammates because they gave me the ball and all I could do was shoot the ball–I was so open.”

Bryant also started the game off hot from beyond the three-point arc for the Utes. He only missed one of his four first-half attempts, as he and Green combined to go 6-for-7 from downtown in the opening half.

The wide-open looks Green and Bryant were able to get were set up from the inside presence of Ute center Luke Nevill.

With the Utes dumping the ball onto Nevill on nearly every offensive possession, Washington State had no choice but to double-team the 7-foot-2 Aussie center or let him use his height to dominate the Cougar centers in the post.

WSU chose to send an extra defender at Nevill, and the U center quickly found his open teammates on the perimeter– and the Utes made WSU pay accordingly.

With the Utah shooting an astounding 63 percent in the first half–combined with a solid defensive effort and Nevill collecting just about every rebound in sight–the Utes went on a 14-0 run that broke the game wide open in the waning minutes of the first-half.

That surge turned a 20-17 ballgame into a 17-point lead for Utah, and the Runnin’ Utes never looked back.

Though Washington State was able to nearly double its 21-point first-half output–which is a season low for points allowed by the Utes in an opening half–the Cougars never whittled the Utes’ lead to single digits.

In fact, the Utes led by as much as 25 in the second half, and aside from the final five-minute stretch in which the Utes saw that 25-point lead get cut in half–forcing Giacoletti to reinsert Nevill into the game–the Runnin’ Utes played arguably their best basketball of the season.

“I thought we did a good job?we had good energy,” Giacoletti said. “We were fortunate we had some balls go down, and I think we’re finding a flow offensively.”

Neville finished the game with 16 points to go alongside 12 boards, and guard Lawrence Borha set a new season-high for himself with 11 points.

The Utes have the opportunity to go above the .500 mark for the first time this season when they travel to Logan to face the Utah State Aggies on Wednesday night.

Game Notes: Utah last played Washington State last year–three days before Christmas–and lost in Seattle 69-42?The Utes finished the night 25-for-43, which was good for a season-best 58.1 shooting percentage?Utah has now won three games in a row for the first time since it opened the 2005-2006 season with four straight victories.

Kim Peterson

Utah’s Shaun Green sinks one of his five three-pointers against Washington State at the Huntsman Center on Saturday. The Utes stopped the Cougars’ winning streak with a 69-55 victory.