Same show, alternate ending

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

The U men’s basketball team is no stranger to adversity–nine of its 19 games this season have been decided by three points or fewer. So when the Utes (7-12, 2-4, MWC) found themselves down 54-53 to Wyoming (11-8, 2-3 MWC) with one minute left in their latest game, they didn’t panic.

Instead, they sent the ball inside to center Luke Nevill, who tossed in a textbook, left-handed hook shot to give Utah the lead. On the ensuing possession, much-heralded Wyoming guard Brandon Ewing drove the lane but was called for a charge when U senior Ricky Johns stepped in front of him. The foul sent Ewing to the bench with five fouls and energized the Utes.

From there, it was all free-throw shooting for Utah, which hit seven-for-eight from the charity stripe down the stretch to snag the victory, 62-60.

“This team is young and they don’t know how to quit,” U head coach Ray Giacoletti said. “We didn’t play our best basketball out there today, but were still able to come out with a win over a good team and that says something.”

After shooting more than 70 percent from the field in Tuesday night’s upset victory over Air Force, the Utes struggled with their shots against the Cowboys, making merely 34 percent of their shots.

“We weren’t shooting very well tonight,” point guard Johnnie Bryant said. “But we did all of the little things that we haven’t been doing this season, and the result was a win.”

Bryant had a particularly uncharacteristic night for the Utes, finishing the game with merely 10 points on 3-for-16 shooting. But the junior made his shots when it mattered most, netting three of his last four shots to spur the Utes on an 8-0 run late in the contest.

“Johnnie (Bryant) made some huge plays for us down the stretch,” Nevill said. “He didn’t shoot the ball that well, but he made plays when we needed it.”

Nevill finished with a team-high 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting while grabbing eight rebounds. Sophomore forward Shaun Green did his usual from the three-point line, making two-for-three and finishing with 10 points.

Senior Ricky Johns came up with big play after big play for the Utes, finishing with 11 points while going five-for-five from the free-throw line.

Perhaps what was most impressive about the Utes was their defense, which held prolific guards Brad Jones and Ewing to 15 and nine points, respectively.

With Ewing in foul trouble for most of the game, Jones took over the bulk of the offense. The junior tallied eight assists and eight rebounds to go along with his 15 points, but couldn’t make a field goal in the last nine minutes.

“We made some key defensive plays there at the end,” Giacoletti said. “Jones could’ve tied it twice but Luke (Nevill) had a nice block, and we just played great perimeter defense.”

After starting their Mountain West Conference schedule 0-4, the Runnin’ Utes have now won their second consecutive league game.

“We didn’t want the Air Force game to be looked at as a fluke,” Bryant said after the game. “It’s hard to have success then handle success, but we did a great job in getting the win today.”

Whether the Air Force game was viewed as a fluke or not, it will be hard for doubters to overlook the Utes as they have now beaten two of their top conference foes.

“Our motivation and energy was down a bit after losing all those close games,” Nevill said. “But we came in here with confidence after that Air Force game and knew we could be successful.”

The Utes have an entire week to enjoy the win over Wyoming, as they do not return to play until next Saturday in Southern California against San Diego State.

Lennie Mahler

Ricky Johns drives past Wyoming’s Ike Okoye in the Utes’ 62-60 victory Saturday in the Huntsman Center.