Runnin’ Utes to catfight Weber

When asked if it was good to have nine days between games after the Runnin’ Utes lost to Santa Clara on Nov. 19, head coach Jim Boylen said matter-of-factly, “Not for those guys in the locker room.” Gulp.

Instead of using the Thanksgiving holiday as a break, Boylen and the Utes (2-2) practiced as much as they could within the constraints of the NCAA rules.

Boylen is constantly challenged with the task of changing the culture and mindset of his newly acquired basketball program. All he has asked for are baby steps. The Runnin’ Utes’ next opportunity to take those steps comes tonight against in-state foe Weber State.

The Wildcats (2-2) come into tonight’s game with the same nine-day layoff as the Utes. Weber State is led by 6-foot-9 forward Arturas Valeika, who is averaging 14.8 points and 12 rebounds per game for the Wildcats.

Valeika isn’t leading Weber State by himself. Juan Pablo Silveira, Steve Panos and Tyler Billings are all within two points or less of a double-figure scoring average, as well.

With the Utes’ increased focus on stopping teams from beyond the 3-point line, Billings and Silveira will garner much of Utah’s attention.

At 6-foot-4, Silveira will be the type of player Lawrence Borha and Johnnie Bryant are used to defending on the perimeter. Billings, on the other hand, is not.

The 6-foot-8 senior out of Smithfield, Utah, presents a more unorthodox 3-point shooting matchup for the Utes.

Weber State already used this matchup problem to its advantage in a 78-71 win over Utah State, as the Wildcats were able to clear up space in the lane for the 6-foot-8 Panos and point guard Dezmon Harris to combine for 29 points.

Although the Wildcats have their fair share of size at the small- and power-forward positions, there is nobody on the roster who comes within 4 inches of Utah center Luke Nevill.

This could come as a break for Nevill who has faced off against centers who could match his size in the last two games. Although Utah lost both of those contests, Nevill wasn’t the only player to blame. In the Runnin’ Utes’ 72-57 loss to Santa Clara, starting forwards Stephen Weigh and Shaun Green combined for a 1-for-4 shooting performance, which allowed the Bronco forwards to pack the lane and make it difficult for Nevill to find space to operate. In Utah’s loss to Washington on Nov. 14, it was foul trouble that did in the U center.

Tonight, the Utes play on the road for the third time and look to continue their improved defense.

Last year Utah allowed opponents to average 0.500 from the field for the season. This year, the Utes have yet to allow a team to cross that mark. Utah has, however, brought one of its better habits back from last year. The Utes are shooting 0.532 from the field, which is tops in the Mountain West Conference.

Tonight’s tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Dee Events Center in Ogden. If the 36-mile drive is asking too much, the game can be seen on KJZZ-14 or heard on 700 The Zone.

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