Revamped Runnin’ Utes on exhibition

The game had absolutely no bearing on the 2007-2008 standings. Their opponent had essentially no shot at pulling off an upset. The win was basically cinched up by halftime.

For Jim Boylen and his Runnin’ Utes, none of that mattered. Effort-wise, Utah played like it was the tipoff to the Mountain West Conference schedule — instead of an exhibition game — and hammered the Montana Tech Orediggers 83-40 at the Huntsman Center on Thursday night.

“Our guys understand what we want — I think the Australia trip helped that,” Boylen said. “We’re ahead offensively, maybe more than a new coach at a new school would be. We have shooting, we have intelligence. What we’ve got to get better at is the grit and toughness.”

The game christened Boylen’s tenure as head coach for the Utes and was the first true glimpse of the changes the Runnin’ Utes have undergone since their new coach took over in March.

Boylen has tried to revamp the defensive philosophy of the Utes in the few short months he’s been at the U. The signs of the “grittiness” he wants from his team surfaced against Montana Tech.

“Compared to last year, I think defensively — I’m sure everyone could see — there was a big, big difference,” U forward Stephen Weigh said. “We didn’t have as many lapses.”

Although the Utes got off to a slow start and allowed the Orediggers to shoot 50 percent from beyond the three-point line in the first half, Utah quickly shut down Montana Tech from all areas on the floor after that.

Utah managed to whittle the Orediggers’ 38.1 percent shooting percentage at halftime down to 28.6 percent for the game behind a resolved effort from the entire team.

Offensively, the Utes had no trouble getting started, nor did they have any trouble maintaining the pressure.

Weigh lead the scoring with 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Fellow Aussie Luke Nevill made some terrific catches, and even better moves in the paint to chip in 16 points to the Utes’ effort.

“We have a pretty good dog-gone player at center,” Boylen said. “I thought he had some catches that were unbelievable for a guy like that.”

The Utes managed to shoot 53.6 from the field as they mixed a barrage of three-point shots with some impressive inside scoring. The Utes’ overall dominance was capitalized by the 23 assists the Utes had on 30 baskets.

“That’s the way we want to play,” Boylen said. “We want to move that ball around, share the ball.”

Mentality changes weren’t the only things unveiled Thursday night.

The Huntsman Center features a new Jumbotron that is equipped to offer running point totals. The new centerpiece hangs down significantly lower and is only two feet from the lowest possible height allowable by the NCAA.

[email protected]

Lennie Mahler

Luke Nevill scores two of his 16 points in Thursday night’s 83-40 win against Montana Tech at the Huntsman Center.