Nevill’s injury might have been a blessing in disguise

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Maybe it was a miracle. Or perhaps divine intervention. Whatever it was, I have a feeling that Luke Nevill’s recent injury wasn’t a mistake.

Recently, the Runnin’ Utes traveled to Laramie, Wyo., to take on Mountain West Conference foe Wyoming. Despite playing the game without the gravitational center of their offense, the Utes had absolutely no trouble scoring points.

Backcuts, pick-and-rolls, ball screens — you name it and Utah was finding a way to score with it. It seemed like every time down the court, Shaun Green was going backdoor for a layup. Everything looked so easy for them.

I didn’t get it. Was this the same team that we’ve been watching this entire year? Where the hell has all this movement been?

Let me diagram the Utes’ offense up until that Wyoming game: Nevill sets up on a low block and everyone else sits out at the three-point line. The plan was to enter the ball to the Aussie, then stand around and wait for the opposing team’s defense to react. If they doubled Nevill, he would throw it out to a teammate. If they didn’t, he would try his best to score.

Needless to say, this style of basketball wasn’t exactly working out for the Utes. It didn’t take Utah opponents too long to figure out the brilliant intricacies of the scheme, and the result was a multitude of Ute losses.

But last Monday in practice, Nevill suffered a right hip pointer that sidelined him for the Wyoming game. That fateful injury might have saved the Utes’ season because it thrust the other key players into the limelight and forced them into a new style of offense.

Instead of standing around and waiting for open shots, the Utes were cutting to the basket and setting ball screens for one another. Johnnie Bryant was draining threes, Lawrence Borha was driving open lanes and Daniel Deane was cleanin’ up the glass.

Granted, the Runnin’ Utes ended up losing the game, but I couldn’t help but be impressed with their offensive explosiveness. Bryant ended up leading the Utes in the game, scoring 26 points on 10-for-15 shooting.

The Utes’ star center returned to action last Saturday against New Mexico. Although he did not start the game due to team policy, the Aussie played significant minutes.

Despite their offensive focal point returning to action, the Utes didn’t change their new style. They were cutting to the basket and making the extra pass — whatever it took to score points.

It was obvious that Nevill wasn’t 100 percent, and his less significant role forced the other players on the team to step up.

Instead of going inside to him every time, the Utes were selective about their entry passes. No longer was it a necessity to include him in the offense. He was still getting shot opportunities, but just wasn’t relied on as heavily as before.

The result was a 93-91 double-overtime victory. Nevill proved to be the saving grace for the team, hitting a pair of foul shots with 2.4 seconds left. He finished the game with 15 points and five rebounds.

Bryant and Shaun Green picked up the slack once again, scoring 23 and 21 points, respectively. Green also grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out six assists in the winning effort.

Those two weren’t the only ones who stepped up to the occasion, either. The Utes’ latest win was a collective effort, with each player pitching in to fill Nevill’s void.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not taking anything away from the Aussie. There aren’t five players in the country that have his combination of size and talent. But you can’t expect one player to shoulder the load of the entire offense. There has to be some movement.

Nevill’s injury forced that movement. The Utes could no longer rely on his big inside presence to dictate tempo to other teams. They had to work to get shots for one another.

Now if they could just figure out their defense?