Big time

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

It’s not too often that 7-foot-1 Ute big-man Luke Nevill runs into an opposing player that is his size. Even more uncommon is playing against two of them. But the Aussie will have to deal with that rarity tonight when he and the rest of the U men’s basketball team (5-10, 0-2 MWC) look to improve their fortunes in Fort Collins against Colorado State (11-3, 1-1 MWC).

Despite being on the same playing field, the Rams’ giant tandem of Jason Smith and Stuart Creason will still likely have trouble with Nevill, who ranks fifth in the nation in field goal percentage and is averaging 18.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

“It should be interesting,” Colorado State head coach Dale Layer said. “Nevill is a confident, skilled player who continues to improve. He’s an NBA prospect, and he plays like it every night.”

Nevill continues to be the focal point of the Utes’ offense midway through a turbulent season full of last-minute blunders and three-point losses. Seven of Utah’s 10 losses have come by three points or fewer.

“I think we’re struggling with confidence right now,” Utah head coach Ray Giacoletti said. “We’re better than our record shows. It’s frustrating, but we just have to find the confidence and determination to compete in close games.”

Utah hopes to get off the snide against Colorado State tonight, which started off the year losing two out of its first three games, but has since been on a tear.

The Rams have won 10 of their last 11 games, with the only loss coming at the hands of then-No. 16 Air Force. Colorado State gave the Falcons all they could handle down low, but the visiting team’s outside play proved to be too much, and the Rams dropped their first conference game, 81-75.

Jason Smith has been the driving force behind the Rams thus far this year, leading the team with 17.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Smith, like Nevill, hasn’t faced another 7-footer yet this year.

“Jason is really comfy and in a great groove right now,” Giacoletti said. “If he gets it high, he can face up and shoot. If he gets it down low, he can finish against anyone.”

Anything that Smith doesn’t put down is picked up by his 7-foot-1 compatriot Stuart Creason, who is also a junior. Not surprisingly, Creason ranks second on the team with 11.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

The tandem has buoyed a high-low attack unlike any other in college basketball and has produced a number of problems for Colorado State opponents.

“Colorado State does a great job putting both of their bigs together, and they’ve caused a lot of problems,” Giacoletti said. “We’ve got to defend both of them but also watch the perimeter for kick-outs.”

When the defense does collapse on the two big men, they have found a considerable amount of success dishing out to the perimeter, where Tyler Smith and Stephan Gilling have reaped the benefits.

Smith ranks third on the team with 11.4 points per game, while Gilling is shooting an impressive 43 percent from behind the arc.

But the attention in this game won’t be at the three-point line. It will be focused on the battle raging down low between the three big men.

“We need to work to get Luke (Nevill) touches with a foot in the paint,” Giacoletti said. “He’s not nearly as effective away from the basket, and CSU is going to try to keep him out of there.”

The Utes will try to bounce back and get their first conference win tonight when they face Colorado State.

Lennie Mahler

Luke Nevill battles on the boards against TCU.