Runnin’ Utes face Utah State tonight

This season, the Runnin’ Utes will keep an “Under Construction” sign up as head coach Jim Boylen tries to remodel Utah into a championship team once again. Defensive improvement has been the bricks. Sweat has been the mortar. Slowly but surely, the U men’s basketball team has built a foundation.

The first true test of how solid that foundation is comes this week as the Utes face two quality opponents. Before making the trip to Eugene, Ore., to face No. 19 Oregon on Saturday, the Utes will play hosts to Utah State (5-4).

‘I think (this week’s) as big a week as we’ve had since I’ve been here, with Utah State at home and Oregon on the road,” Boylen said.

While Utah leads the overall series between the in-state rivals 128-90, the Aggies have owned a 5-3 advantage spanning the last eight years. Interestingly, three of those losses have come when Utah went on to finish the season with 20 or more wins. If that had anything to do with the Utes overlooking their northern opponent, that certainly won’t be the case tomorrow when the series resumes at the Huntsman Center. Boylen has the utmost respect for what head coach Stew Morrill has done at Utah State.

“He’s a nationally known coach and respected coach,” Boylen said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for what he’s accomplished with his program.”

Boylen has plenty of reason to hold Morrill in such high regard. Over the past eight seasons, the Aggie head coach has lead his team to eight straight 23-win seasons. During that span, the Aggies have made five NCAA Tournaments and another three NIT appearances. This year, a great deal of USU’s success rests on the shoulders of guard Jaycee Carroll. The Aggie senior averaged 21.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season. Besides hunting, swimming, watching “Scrubs” and eating chicken alfredo, Carroll loves winning. When he scores over 20 points per game, the Aggies have a very good chance of winning. Since the beginning of last season, when Carroll scores over 20 points, the Aggies are 22-5. But, when the All-American scores less, the Aggies are just 6-11.

While keeping track of Carroll will be a primary focus for the Utes tonight, staying tough on the perimeter-both with dribble penetration and shot contesting-will be a parallel area of focus.

“We just try to have an early high hand and get out to (the shooters),” Boylen said after allowing UC Irvine to shoot 59.1 percent last Saturday. “We were getting beat to the middle-on-middle drives. I thought our shot challenge was late.”

One thing that bodes well for the Utes, besides their improvements on defense, has been the various players that have contributed for the Utes offensively.

Five different players have led the Utes in scoring over their first six games. Lawrence Borha has done it twice. Four players average double figures for the Utes: Nevill leading the way with 13.5 points per game, followed by Johnnie Bryant (13.3), Bohra (11.7) and Stephen Weigh (11.3). The game is scheduled to tip-off at 8 p.m. and can be seen on the mtn. network.

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Lennie Mahler

Luke Nevill leads the Utes in scoring averaging 13.5 points a game.