Slow start, big finish

OGDEN — Whenever the Runnin’ Utes got punched in the chops early last year it was a pretty good indication that a rout was on the horizon.

Last night, the U men’s basketball team got hit in the mouth early by the Weber State Wildcats and a landslide came tumbling after. Only this time, it was the Utes that came out on the better end of a blowout.

Despite allowing Weber State (2-3) to jump out to an early 12-point lead, the Utes (3-2) managed to coast to a 72-52 win Wednesday night at the Dee Events Center. The U’s Shaun Green led all scorers with 18 points and Luke Nevill chipped in 16. Utah withstood Weber State center Arturas Valeika’s double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) to end a two-game losing skid.

It took the Wildcats just seven minutes to score their first 16 points, but it took them more than 21 minutes to score the next 16. After WSU’s Davin Davis put an exclamation point on the team’s 16-4 run to open the game with a thundering dunk through the lane, Utah managed to get back into the game with an improved defensive effort.

“We win games because of our defense,” Nevill said. “At the start of the game, we let them have some open shots — we knew we needed to stop them in order to win.”

For the next 12 minutes, Utah didn’t allow Weber State to make a single field goal. The Utes, on the other hand, began to heat up. A jumper from Johnnie Bryant, a tip-in from Kim Tillie and a layup from Nevill left the Utes trailing 18-10. Then the floodgates opened.

Behind a tenacious defensive effort — the Utes forced five turnovers over a four-minute span just before half — Utah turned an eight-point deficit into a six-point lead through the hot-handed Green and a filthy dunk from Carlon Brown.

“I can’t really explain Carlon’s dunk,” Green said. “It just got the team excited. That play was just amazing. I’ve never seen that in person.”

In the final five minutes of the first half, Green went 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, including a 3-pointer from 27 feet as time expired for the opening half. The shot gave Utah a 27-21 lead going into the half.

“I knew there was little time left on the clock so I just threw it up there and it went in,” Green said. “After the first couple, I just didn’t feel like I was going to miss.”

In the second half, the Utes began their effort to run away from Wildcats behind the strength of six quick points from Nevill. The 7-foot-1 Aussie was held to just two points in the first half.

“Coming out of the locker room, coach told me I wasn’t playing really strong and physical in the first half,” Nevill said. “I wasn’t going to settle for any shot. I was going strong to the hoop.”

The Ute defense also aided in the process by holding Weber State without a field goal for the opening four minutes. By the time Utah polished off a 10-2 run midway through the latter half, Boylen’s squad had pushed their lead up to 20.

Although the defensive effort and the overall result was a big improvement from Utah’s lackluster loss to Santa Clara 10 days earlier, Boylen stressed that his team still has a lot to work on.

“We just have to get better,” Boylen said. “We have to defend, we have to defend, we have to defend. If we can keep defending our offense will come around.”

Notes: After shooting 34 percent in the first half, the Utes shot a blistering 72 percent in the second to finish at 51.9 percent for the game. Utah held its fifth opponent to less than 50-percent shooting as the Wildcats finished the night on a 36.4 percent effort. Utah turned the ball over just 11 times, their lowest effort of the season. The Utes made 11 3-pointers, their highest total of the season. Brown, a freshman, started his first game of his collegiate career. He took the place of Stephen Weigh, who is nursing a set of bruised ribs.

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Lennie Mahler

Carlon Brown sails toward the basket for a one-handed dunk over Weber State’s Steve Panos.