Men’s Hoops: Notebook

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Boylen still has faith in Kepkay

Tyler Kepkay is one of the last people to leave the gym every day. He’s also been the guy with the ball in his hand during the last seconds of four Runnin’ Ute losses that have come down to the wire. Unfortunately, none of those games went Utah’s way, but that hasn’t caused Boylen’s confidence to waver in his juco transfer’s ability or heart.

“I’m glad he has the intestinal fortitude to take a big shot and live with the consequences,” Boylen said.”He’ll be alright, he’s tough. He wants to win.”

While Boylen admitted Kepkay made a mistake on the last play of Saturday’s 72-71 loss to New Mexico, to blame Kepkay for the loss — or any of the Utes’ last-second losses this season — is frankly something Boylen doesn’t agree with.

‘We try to make it about us, about our team — it’s we and us. We’re not going to single guys out for one play,” Boylen said. “Everybody focused on that last minute, and I understand that…but a play in the first half — a loose ball we didn’t get, a 3-pointer we didn’t high-hand early-shot challenge — those are just as big as that last play.”

Like Kepkay, Boylen feels his team is still in its infancy when it comes to how he runs his program. Whether it’s someone like Carlon Brown, who is playing at the collegiate level for the first time, Kepkay, who is new to the Division I level or someone like Luke Nevill, who is in the first year under Boylen, everyone is at the baby stage.

“Every guy is new in this system,” Boylen said. “I have guys that are babies in this system, and I have some guys that are babies in basketball — by babies I mean maturity level in the game and maturity level in my system.”

Growing pains

A big part of the struggles that come with a new head coach is the new system that person brings. Even when a team goes on a four-game winning streak like the Utes did before last week’s loss to BYU, there is no room to get comfortable.

“We’re a developing, learning team,” Boylen said. “I think sometimes when you win four in a row like we did and we’ve got 15 wins compared to 11 all of last year, I think the tendency is to think we are there. We are developing to get there. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

When Boylen came to Utah, he wanted to establish a defensive foundation first and foremost. Part way through the season, 80 percent of the Utes’ effort in practice and in games went toward the defensive end of the court. When Utah went on their recent four-game winning streak, Boylen estimated the balance was more like 60/40 in favor of the offensive floor.

“We have improved offensively,” Boylen said Monday. “I’m just making sure today that improving offensively hasn’t hurt us defensively.”

Now that the Utes are on a two-game downslide, that focus might just change again.

“Whatever you work more with this group of guys, they seem to get better,” Boylen said. “Whatever you work on less seems to not improve like we’d like, so that’s part of this learning process with this new team and this new group of guys.”

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