Last chance

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Regardless of where a team is and how it is playing, every game has significance. For the U men’s basketball team, a win against San Diego State tonight could get it out of a play-in game next week in the Mountain West Conference tournament.

The Runnin’ Utes, who are currently in seventh place, definitely helped out their situation with a recent double-overtime win over New Mexico, but the Lobos still only trail them by one game heading into the final week of conference play.

Utah battled back and forth with New Mexico last Saturday, going through regulation and a pair of overtimes before a winner was decided. Both teams had plenty of chances to win the game down the stretch, but shots simply weren’t finding their marks.

At the end of regulation, it was Utah forward Shaun Green who had a wide-open three-point attempt that went awry as time expired. In the first overtime, Luke Nevill missed a pair of foul shots with fewer than 10 seconds left that would have won it for the Utes.

New Mexico had a chance of its own at the end of the period, but a Darren Prentice three-pointer couldn’t find its target, and the game headed to a second overtime.

That’s when Nevill decided they had played long enough. The 7-foot-1 Aussie sunk both of his free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining to win it for the Utes, 93-91.

“I just went through my usual routine and it ended up working out,” Nevill said. “I don’t know what happened that first time around — there must have been dew on the ball or something.”

Meanwhile, San Diego State is carrying quite a bit of momentum into the Huntsman Center tonight. The Aztecs have won seven of their last eight games and are coming off their most impressive win of the year last Saturday against then No. 21-ranked BYU.

The defending conference champions jumped out to a 22-4 lead thanks to some nifty guard play from Brandon Heath. The 6-foot-4 senior scored 12 of the Aztecs’ first 20 points to give his team the lead early.

San Diego State was able to maintain that same 18-point lead heading into halftime (43-25), but a barrage of three-pointers from the Cougars in the second half closed the lead down to 67-57 with just less than six minutes left to play.

That’s when Heath and forward Mohamed Abukar took over. The potent guard/forward tandem combined for 15 points over the final stretch to ice the victory, 86-74.

The 6-foot-10 Abukar finished the game with 27 points. Heath, who is the highest scoring player in the history of the MWC, finished with 30 points for the second consecutive game.

“We just came out with high energy on defense,” Heath said after the game. “As long as you start games off like that, with defense on your mind first, you’ll win a lot of games.”

The Utes can expect that same high intensity and defense effort when the Aztecs come to the Huntsman Center tonight.

The last meeting between the two teams saw the Utes jump out to a 40-29 lead early in the second half. But Heath and company fought their way back into the game, scoring the next 11 points and eventually winning the game, 63-53.

“We did some pretty good things against (San Diego State), but we just committed too many turnovers to win,” said U head coach Ray Giacoletti. “We can’t allow them easy transition baskets this time.”

Heath and Abukar were kept in check in the last meeting between the two teams, scoring 14 and 12 points, respectively. But the talented tandem will surely be the focus for the Utes once again tonight.

“Abukar and Heath will make shots if we have a hand up or not,” Giacoletti said. “We just have to do everything we can to limit their touches.”

The game, which is set for 7 p.m., is the last home game for Utah guard Ricky Johns. The Utes’ sole senior has come on especially strong in conference play, averaging 9.4 points per game against MWC foes.

“Ricky is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen,” Shaun Green said. “He always does whatever he can to make the team better, so we’re going to do everything we can to get him a win in his last home game.”