Out of the gutter

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

The U men’s basketball team has rarely won close games this season. So when the Runnin’ Utes found themselves guarding a 64-63 lead with just more than a minute left against TCU last Saturday, Ute fans probably started asking themselves how their team was going to lose this one.

Enter Ricky Johns.

The sole senior on the Utah roster found a niche in the Horned Frogs’ defense and sliced to the basket for a lay-up, putting Utah fans’ collective minds at ease in a 70-65 victory. The win marks the first time this season that the Utes were victorious away from the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center.

“It’s been frustrating coming out on the road and coming so close and not getting the win, but we finally got this one,” Johns said after the game. “It just comes down to playing defense.”

The senior guard scored 15 of his team-high 18 points in the second half to lead the Utes over TCU, which has now lost its last seven games.

Utah led by as much as 13 in the second half, but the Horned Frogs pieced together a 10-0 run midway through the period to close the gap, giving Ute fans and players alike the dj vu feeling.

“We had a pretty good lead, but they were starting to make a comeback,” U forward Shaun Green said. “Luckily, we were able to finish this one.”

The Horned Frogs were led by sharpshooting guard Brent Hackett, who converted on six of his nine three-point attempts to lead the team with 22 points. Sophomore forward Kevin Langford also pitched in 21 points and five rebounds in the losing effort.

Despite winning the game, the Utes struggled with their ball control throughout the contest, committing a season-high 25 turnovers.

“It just goes to show you that if you compete, rebound and defend, you can be deficient in other areas and still win,” Ute head coach Ray Giacoletti said. “We have not done that this year, but we did it tonight.”

Utah center Luke Nevill turned in yet another solid performance for the Utes, throwing down for 13 points and 10 rebounds. Meanwhile, freshman forward Daniel Deane came off the bench to score a career-high 10 points for the Utes.

Junior guard Johnnie Bryant continued to struggle with his shooting, converting on merely three of his 11 attempts to finish with 15 points.

“The past couple of games, I haven’t been shooting the ball that well,” Bryant said. “I’ve been shooting the ball in drills, but in games I haven’t been able to find a niche.”

But the wily point guard made his shots when they mattered most, hitting four-of-four from the free-throw line down the stretch to preserve the win for the Utes.

“I told myself that if I went to the free-throw line, I had to be able to knock them down, and I did,” Bryant said.

The win marks the third league victory for the Utes, leaving the Horned Frogs all alone in the Mountain West Conference gutter.

“We’ve had a lot more aesthetically pleasing games and haven’t won,” Giacoletti said. “But we played hard tonight, played defense and boxed out. These kids worked extremely hard tonight.”

Kim Peterson

Ricky Johns throws a no-look pass after getting forced out of bounds in the Utes’ loss to BYU on Jan. 31. Johns lead Utah with 18 points in their 70-65 victory over TCU on Friday.