Going out strong

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Ricky Johns’ mother Yvonne couldn’t have imagined her son’s final home game as a Ute going any better.

“It feels great,” she said. “To come out here and he plays like that and wins the game-I loved it. That’s just the kind of game he plays.”

Both Ricky’s mother and sister were on hand from The Bronx to witness the best performance of the senior’s career. Johns shot a blistering 11-for-13 from the field to score a game-high 30 points and spur his team to a 74-68 win over San Diego State at the Huntsman Center last night.

Every time the Utes needed a big play, Johns was the one to provide it-be it with a deep three-pointer, foul shots or a drive to the basket.

“I was just trying to be as aggressive as possible and it just felt smooth coming out of my hands,” Ricky Johns said. “I just put in the hard work and time in practice and it just pays off.”

The Utes’ sole senior received a standing ovation before the game to honor his career at Utah, then another after the game paying homage to his performance on the night.

“I’m just so happy and proud of him,” Utah coach Ray Giacoletti said. “He’s the most loyal guy on our team and is always working hard in practice.”

Johns missed his first shot attempt only two-and-a-half minutes into the game, but did not miss again until two minutes remained in the second half.

During the stretch, Johns shot a flawless 6-for-6 from behind the arc, including a four-point play over San Diego State star Brandon Heath. The conversion brought the crowd of more than 9,000 Utah fans to its feet and spurred the Utes on to the victory.

Johns’ 30-point game is the highest of any Utah player this season, and was the team’s highest scoring mark since Andrew Bogut topped the 30-point barrier against Wyoming on Feb. 14, 2005. The total was also the best offensive output of his career.

“Before the game, it was kind of emotional. Having (my family) here-they’re not able to see me a lot, coming from New York-it felt really good,” Ricky Johns said.

The Utes got off to a quick start last night, using 12 points from the lone senior to jump out to a commanding 32-19 lead at halftime.

The second half started out with more dominance from the smooth southpaw, scoring 11 of the Utes’ first 13 points and keeping Heath under control. But when coach Giacoletti pulled Johns out for a seven-minute breather, the Aztec guard went off, scoring six points in under two minutes to close the Utah lead to five (60-55).

The 6-foot-3 shooting guard came back into the game with just over four-and-a-half minutes to play, giving the Utes a legitimate scoring threat for the first time in several minutes. The result was a multitude of double-teams, allowing several of Johns’ teammates open looks down the stretch.

“I definitely surprised them,” Johns said. “I’m sure they weren’t looking for me to come out and get 30 on them. That’s way above my average right now.”

The Bronx native, who is averaging 6.7 points per game this season, credited his success to his teammates for finding him when he was open.

Johns’ teammates and coach, on the other hand, just wanted to put together a great effort and get a home win for their departing senior. They had no idea that he would be the reason they would win.

“He really put us on his back tonight,” Giacoletti said.

Lennie Mahler

Ricky Johns huddles with teammates after the Utes’ win Tuesday to celebrate his career-high 30 points earning him the title of Player of the Game in the last home game he will ever play at Utah.