Battle in the blizzard

Spectators who braved the weather outside the Huntsman Center to watch the Runnin’ Utes in action Saturday afternoon witnessed a storm on the court as well. In the end, neither the snow nor the visiting team’s 3-point blizzard prevented Utah fans from seeing what they wanted.

Utah (4-2) survived a sizzling 3-point shooting performance from UC Irvine (2-5) and got a lift from Lawrence Borha’s 24-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist performance to outlast the Anteaters 78-66.

“He did it all tonight,” Shaun Green said of Borha. “He passed the ball, he rebounded the ball, he played defense really well and he scored. He had a great game.”

Going into the game, nothing led Utah to believe that UCI was a 3-point shooting team. After the game, the Utes had a different opinion.

“You have to give Irvine credit,” head coach Jim Boylen said. “They made shots. I didn’t think they were going to make that many shots. We didn’t see that in films we watched. We thought they were an inside team.”

The Anteaters entered Saturday’s contest shooting 36.7 percent from beyond the arc. Against the Utes, they shot 59.1 percent for the game, including an 8-for-12 3-point output in the second half.

But just as the Utes did against Weber State in a comeback win last Wednesday, the U defense sparked a lead-changing run that gave Utah its second-straight victory.

Entering the second half, Utah hung onto a 31-28 lead. That margin quickly closed up as Michael Hunter and Brett Lauer combined for three straight 3-point baskets before Utah could even get on the board. Seven of UCI’s 11 baskets to start the second half were 3-point shots, which allowed the Anteaters to build a 56-43 lead with just less than 11 minutes to play in the game.

Shortly after, Boylen called a timeout and devised a plan to get the Utes back in the game.

“Our game plan was to drive the ball,” Borha said. “We knew they were in foul trouble, so we tried to drive and get them to foul us. They did a good job fouling us, and we hit our free throws.”

Carlon Brown — who finished with a career-high 12 points — scored a layup on the next play. That ignited a 17-1 run, which turned a 13-point Ute deficit into a 60-57 lead in four-and-a-half minutes. Six of Utah’s nine field goals during the run were off layups.

“Coach was getting on us, and we all just looked at each other, and we just needed to pickup the defensive intensity,” Green said. “They were making every shot they threw up — credit to them — but we hurried them up a little bit, forced a couple of turnovers, made a couple of baskets and got right back into the game.”

After trading baskets for the next three minutes, UCI took a 64-63 win on a pair of Kevin Bland free throws with four minutes remaining. The Anteaters would not score again until fewer than 30 seconds remained. The Utes, on the other hand, continued to pile up points in the paint. Utah used three more layups — including Green’s no-look one-handed circus shot — and 8-for-8 shooting from the free-throw line to go on a 14-0 run that removed all hope of an upset road win from the Anteaters.

“You have to give my guys credit,” Boylen said. “We didn’t fracture, we didn’t separate, we didn’t second guess…the way we used to. We didn’t do that today.”

Notes: Despite allowing UCI to shoot such a high 3-point percentage, Utah held its sixth-straight opponent under 50-percent shooting. UCI, however, shot just 43.8 percent from the freethrow line. The Utes shot just 4-for-15 from beyond the arc. Five Utes scored in double figures, including Borha, Brown, Green (12), Nevill and Bryant (11 each). Stephen Weigh sat out his second-straight game after sustaining bruised ribs against Santa Clara on Nov. 19. Borha — who leads the MWC in 3-point shooting — went 3-for-3 from downtown and hit his first eight shots of the game. He finished on 9-10 shooting from the field. Borha’s 24 points were a career high. He has scored 20 points or more in two games so far this season.

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Lennie Mahler

Lawrence Borha draws a foul before sinking a layup.