Men’s Hoops: Runnin’ Utes go to Colorado St. searching for a win

When Jim Boylen took the reins of the Runnin’ Utes’ program, it was much like getting the keys to a used Corvette. For someone like Boylen, the Corvette symbolized potential. With enough wrench-turning and elbow grease, that Corvette could run like new. As it stands, that Corvette is running better now than it has in a while, but like any used car, it still has a tendency to break down once in a while.

Wednesday night against Wyoming, the engine — better known as Luke Nevill — was hitting on all cylinders. With Wyoming opting not to double-team the Aussie center, Nevill scored a season-high 25 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had three blocks, including a crucial stuff of Wyoming guard Brad Jones with less than a minute left to play.

“I thought Luke was pretty good offensively,” Boylen said. “They stayed home on our shooters and played Luke one-on-one down there, and that’s what he should do. He should get 25 (points) and 9 (rebounds) when they play him one-on-one and he did it.”

Unfortunately for Boylen and the Utes, little else ran smoothly on the refurbished Corvette.

Senior captain Johnnie Bryant had his worst offensive performance of the season as he scored six points on 2-of-15 shooting. Emerging contributor Luka Drca played nine minutes before fouling out and had three turnovers to go with his three assists. Worst of all, Utah held the Cowboys to 38.6 percent shooting but did not lead after the 3:58 mark in the first half.

“We have to shoot the ball to be good,” Boylen said. “Obviously, we can’t have the shooting we had at home and hold a team to 38.6 (percent shooting) on our home floor and we don’t win. It’s disappointing.”

Whether it was because Wyoming had won one conference game in five tries before Wednesday night, or whether Boylen just wanted a change of pace, Thursday’s practice start time was moved from 3:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. Boylen has made a habit of changing afternoon practices to the early morning following a lackluster performance. The change could also have to do with how crucial the Utes’ upcoming trip to Forth Collins, Colo., has become.

Utah sits just 2-4 in the conference standings and will play six of its remaining 10 regular season games on the road. At this point, picking up a few road wins has become crucial to Utah’s hopes for playing a factor at the MWC Championships in mid-March.

Depending on the outcome, tomorrow’s matchup with Colorado State (6-14, 0-6 MWC) stands to be either a tune-up or the classic example of the transmission dropping out in the middle of the highway.

For the Utes to be successful, slowing down Marcus Walker will be key.

The 6-foot guard poses the same transition threat that Wyoming’s Brandon Ewing does. As good of a scorer as Ewing has been this season, Walker has been even better.

Walker is leading the league with his 23.7 scoring average in conference play and is shooting 0.461 from the field and 0.870 from the free throw line. The Utes will also have to contend with Ronnie Aguilar, who is the best shot blocker in the league. Utah’s perimeter defense will also be tested as Colorado State is averaging nearly 17 3-point attempts per game.

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Lennie Mahler

Lawrence Borha takes a hard fooul on a fast break to the basket in the second half of the Utes’ loss against Wyoming.