Men’s Hoops: Runnin’ Utes get back on track against CSU

The way things were going, the Runnin’ Utes would have taken a road win against a pick-up team from the local YMCA to build confidence. Instead, Utah can use a 67-52 conference win against lowly Colorado State as a momentum builder in preparation for a rerun through the MWC gauntlet.

Utah guard Carlon Brown took advantage of teammate Luka Drca’s suspension and scored a career-high 16 points to lead the Utes. Drca was suspended after the MWC deemed that an elbow he issued to a TCU player on Jan. 26 broke league rules. Brown played 25 minutes — eight more than his season average — and also led the team with seven rebounds.

“Carlon was active,” Utah head coach Jim Boylen told KALL 700 sports radio. “His seven rebounds were huge for us.”

Utah (12-8, 3-4) wasted no time jumping all over the Rams (6-15, 0-7), who have not won since beating Division-II Western State on Dec. 29. Utah scored the first five points as part of an 18-4 start and never looked back. Johnnie Bryant returned to form after a 2-for-15 shooting performance against Wyoming last Wednesday by scoring 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting. Tyler Kepkay was the only other Ute in double figures. Kepkay had four rebounds and four assists to go along with his 11 points.

“Obviously a big win for us after a disappointing home loss (to Wyoming) last week,” Boylen said on KALL 700.

Utah combined the quick start on offense with a strong stand on defense. The Utes held Colorado State to a season-low 13 first-half points on 6-for-23 shooting. Utah used its energy on both sides of the floor to take a 33-13 lead into the break.

“I thought that (Utah) did a nice job on defense,” Colorado State head coach Tim Miles said. “They made it hard for us to cut and screen and get in the lane.”

In the second half, it was Colorado State that got the quick start. Marcus Walker, who leads the conference in scoring, turned in seven of his game-high 23 points during a 9-2 run by the Rams that cut Utah’s halftime lead to 13 points. The CSU defense also did its part by holding the Utes to just one field goal through the first seven minutes of the second half.

“We need to play with grit for 40 minutes,” Boylen said on KALL 700. “I thought we only did it for 30 minutes (tonight).”

After a series of 1-for-2 trips at the free throw line, the Utes quickly righted the ship and never let their lead dip below 12 as they coasted to their first road win in MWC play. Utah used its league-leading field goal percentage defense to hold Colorado State to 40.8 percent shooting on the night. Utah also had 14 assists off 22 baskets, which made Boylen particularly happy.

“I love when this team shares the basketball,” Boylen said on KALL 700.

The Runnin’ Utes also lived up to their nickname in the first half by getting out into transition more often than in the past few games. Playing a significant role in the Utes’ indifference to push the pace during the past two weeks was a busy schedule and a depleted bench.

Starting with New Mexico on Jan. 22 and ending last Saturday, the Utes played four games in 12 nights. Over that stretch, the Utes were also recovering from the sudden departure of Stephen Weigh, who decided to play professionally in Australia. Kim Tillie was also healing from a stress fracture in his leg. With Tillie’s 20 minutes being the most work he’s put in since Dec. 22, the Utes were able to push the tempo more often.

Utah wraps up the opening half of its conference schedule against 17-4 (6-1 MWC) UNLV on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at the Huntsman Center.

Notes: The U women’s basketball team held Colorado State to 10 first-half points in their 68-28 home win over the Rams. The Utah men’s and women’s basketball teams combined to allow just 23 points for both Colorado State basketball teams in first-half play. Saturday night’s victory gives Utah 12 wins, which is more than it had all of last year. After failing to hold a single team to 55 points or less last year, the Runnin’ Utes have accomplished that feat eight times in 20 tries this season. Luke Nevill had just eight points and five rebounds in 25 minutes of play.

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