Runnin’ Utes look to keep it rolling

Tonight, the Runnin’ Utes continue their journey toward turning over a new leaf. To do so, they’ll have to stop turning other things over — particularly the ball.

The Utes head into round one of the National Invitational Tournament Season Tip-off looking to do just that. First-year head coach Jim Boylen will make sure of that.

“It’s not acceptable,” Boylen said. “We had nine (turnovers) from our dominant ball handlers. Casual. We didn’t break to get open. We weren’t tough enough with the ball, but it’s hard to get all over my guys when (USC Upstate) shoots 28 percent and we win by 34.”

Although the Utes avoided becoming the third prolific basketball program to lose to a team in the Atlantic Sun in the week — Kentucky lost to Garner-Webb and Cincinnati lost to Belmont — turnovers were a huge concern. The Utes outplayed USC Upstate in every statistical category except steals. For Boylen and his players, this included committing 20 turnovers to the Spartans’ 18. Still, the Utes managed to handle USC Upstate so thoroughly in every other aspect that the turnovers hardly mattered. That likely won’t be the case when Utah begins facing more talented teams, which is why Boylen wants to nip the problem in the bud now.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do at both ends,” Boylen said. “We’re not getting enough 50-50 balls. We’re not finishing off possessions enough for our team to be successful.”

The NIT Season Tip-Off should be a great chance for the Utes to do just that. Although High Point has some great athletes, including Big South Player of the Year Arizona Reid, it also features some size at center to test U big man Luke Nevill. That’s something that the 7-foot-1 Aussie has yet to face.

“I haven’t really played anybody my size inside,” Nevill said. “Normally in practice I’m used to getting fouled. I can’t call fouls. I get mugged and I have to keep playing. (Boylen) just wants me to play through contact.”

The 6-foot-11 Cruz Daniels stands as the first true test for Nevill this season, but both centers will need to reverse what happened in their season-openers if they want to stay on the court.

Nevill collected two fouls in the first two minutes against USC Upstate and finished the game with just 15 minutes of playing time. Daniels’ outing against Charlotte didn’t go much differently. The center from Clearwater, Fla., fouled out of the game before he could get eight minutes of playing time under his belt.

Whether Daniels and Nevill are in the game or not, the Utes will still have their hands full with Reid. The 6-foot-5 senior was only one of two players to average 21 points and nine rebounds last season. Last year’s NCAA Player of the Year and this year’s NBA Rookie of the Year candidate, Kevin Durant, was the other.

Should the Utes play well enough to get past High Point — something they’ve done in the three other meetings — they will face the winner of a Washington Huskies and New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders game.

If things play out according to seeds, Wednesday’s game with Washington will be Utah’s first true test under coach Boylen’s tutelage.

The Utes tip off Tuesday at 6 p.m. MST.

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Lennie Mahler

Lawrence Borha fires a three-point jumpshot in the Utes’ victory against South Carolina Upstate.