Utah well positioned to face Gonzaga

By By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

The Runnin’ Utes begin their New Year’s Eve celebration with a game against one of the nation’s best teams.
The Utes host No. 16 ranked Gonzaga at 6 p.m. in the Huntsman Center. Utah is coming off of an avenging road win against UC-Irvine 60-52 and looks to take a big win against a top 25 team into the new year.

“It should be a big crowd and a heck of a game against a quality opponent,” said Utah head coach Jim Boylen. “We had a great game there last year, a two point loss and a very competitive game.”

Gonzaga has lost three of its last four games after starting the season 7-0. The Bulldog’s last defeat came with a shocking 77-70 loss to Portland State, but coach Boylen knows that at this level teams don’t harp on a bad stretch for too long.

“You gotta play you’re “A’ game every night to win and with a 30 game schedule that’s not going to happen,” Boylen said. “We don’t even talk about them losing their last 3-of-4, we know we have a quality opponent coming in that we had a heck of a battle with last year.”

Compared to last season, Gonzaga has more to offer this year. The Bulldog’s defense has improved and just like the Utes, they like to utilize their depth. They have one of the most difficult schedules in the country with an Ratings Percentage Index in the top 10.

“They share the ball, they run the ball, they move the ball and they can all score,” Boylen said. “I think they’re very similar to us right now in that they’ve had a very difficult schedule and they’ve lost a game or two in which they thought the could win.”

Luke Nevill will face his toughest opponent of the year on the block going up against 6-foot-11 center Josh Heytvelt. Heytvelt is leading the team in scoring with 15 points per game and is pulling down six rebounds per game. On paper, Nevill has the slight edge with 17 points and eight rebounds per game.

As a team, the Bulldogs are outscoring their opponents 82-57 on average and out-rebounding their opponents 38-34. The Utes are outscoring their opponents 71-65 and are averaging four more rebounds per game at 34-30.

Nevill earned the Mountain West Conference Player of the Week award for the second time this season last week. He earned back-to-back double-doubles with his best effort coming in the team’s loss against Utah State. He had game highs in both scoring (25) and rebounding (11). He averaged 18 points and 10.5 rebounds for the week.

Ute starting point guard Luka Drca was back in the line up against UC-Irvine after a two game suspension and will start again against the Bulldogs. He played a big role in the game against UC-Irvine by knocking down four free throws in the last 1:20, which put the game out of reach.

“(I’m) thankful to have Drca back and thankful to pick up a big road win,” Boylen said.
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