Utes hit the ground running

By By Chris Kamrani

By Chris Kamrani

For those of you who expect to see a strictly set-up offense and a defense that just waits for the ball to go through the net, don’t count on getting what you counted on with the U basketball team this season.

Utah used stringent defense and a solid transition attack to run away with the first win of head coach Jim Boylen’s tenure 86-52 over South Carolina-Upstate.

“We’re the Runnin’ Utes, and we want to run,” Boylen said. “We need to become a team that can win defensively.”

Although the Utes got a career-high 20 points from junior Lawrence Borha and forced the Spartans to shoot 28 percent from the field, the lopsided victory was marred with fouls and turnovers.

Center Luke Nevill had to sit out the majority of the first half, having picked up two quick fouls before two minutes had expired in the game.

Fortunately for Boylen, the other Utah starters picked up the slack, scoring 58 of the 86 points. Newcomer Tyler Kepkay debuted with an impressive statline, recording 12 points, six assists and five rebounds.

But not everything was new for the Utes. The team picked up where they left off from behind the 3-point line a season ago, netting 7-for-15 from behind the arc against the Spartans.

The Utes struggled early with the Spartan press, forcing the Utes into committing a horde of turnovers in the first half. These woes allowed the Spartans to hang around. But Utah overcame the mistakes and an early penalty bonus and pieced together a 14-5 run heading into the half. The run was capped off by a transition 3-point shot from sophomore Stephen Weigh.

The second half was much like the first, with plenty of turnovers from both sides. The difference was Utah’s ability to make high-percentage shots. Utah finished the game shooting 57.1 percent from the field, and Nevill came back in the second half to quickly score 12 points.

Boylen was happy to start out the season on a positive note, but said there is still tremendous room for improvement.

“We chart layups. I believe in what Jerry Sloan (the Utah Jazz’s head coach) does. We’re going to play clean and we’re going to play physical,” Boylen said.

Borha, dubbed by Boylen as the Utes’ Mario Elie, is typically a defensive specialist but was the most offensively productive Ute on the night. Despite the best statline of his career as a Ute, Borha was largely unsatisfied with the performance.

“I didn’t think we played too well at all,” Borha said. “We need to work on everything and leave room for improvement.”

Kepkay, who recently transferred from the College of Eastern Utah, agreed with Borha.

“There were just too many turnovers,” Kepkay said. “It’s our job to bear down, and just get it and go.”

Although the offense has shown plenty of talent, Boylen emphasizes the message of defense and hustle.

“Defense is the only way to get this program back to what it once was,” Boylen said.

The victory accomplished something the Utah basketball team couldn’t manage in a single game last season — hold an opponent under 55 points.

The Utes will return to action Tuesday when they face High Point in Seattle, Wash., for the first round of the National Invitation Tournament Season Tip-Off.

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Lennie Mahler

Tyler Kepkay weaves through South Carolina Upstate’s defense to score two points in the Utes’ 86-52 victory Friday at the Huntsman Center.