Grit and senior leadership keys to winning

By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

Top of the Mountain

With wins over BYU and New Mexico last week, Utah is in a three-way tie for first place in the Mountain West Conference, along with UNLV and San Diego State at 5-2 in conference play. In his press conference Monday, head coach Jim Boylen referred to a thing that longtime friend and NBA head coach Rudy Tomjanovich once said to him, “It’s amazing how the bounce of a ball determines your life8212;determines your happiness, we make a big play at the end and we win.”

An overtime win for the Utes against the Cougars and a clutch shot in the final moments against the Lobos could have gone either way, and so could have the Utes’ season.

That’s the difference in this year’s team and last year’s. Utah was in plenty of games last season that it could have won, but just couldn’t find a way. Ute guard Lawrence Borha credits that to the determination of the four seniors.

“I think all the close games last year has something to do with it, but the seniors do too,” Borha said. “We all just want to win and in close games we know we have to get physical.”

Boylen has been talking about defending, rebounding and winning the game at the free-throw line since the first day of practice. His players have responded, holding their opponents to 40 percent shooting from the field (No. 3 in the conference), a league-best plus-five rebounding margin and have shot 145 more free throws than last year at this time, while their percentage is second best in the country at 79 percent.

Four!

Ute center Luke Nevill received his fourth Mountain West Conference Player of the Week award after a statistically enormous week. The 7-foot-2-inch Perth, Australia, native averaged 21 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two assists when the Runnin’ Utes needed him to step up.

Tuesday, BYU entered the Huntsman Center riding a four game winning streak against the U. Nevill was left alone on the block, and caught fire, scoring a career-high 32 points and added 10 rebounds, recording his eighth double-double of the season.

On Saturday, Utah hosted another tough MWC foe8212;New Mexico, which at the time was tied for first place with the Utes. Nevill didn’t have a huge game offensively because of double- and triple-team efforts by the Lobos, but he did his part by grabbing six rebounds, blocking four shots and dishing three assists.

For the week, Nevill was 12-for-20 from the field, and 19-for-22 from the free throw line.

“It’s great, I just keep playing hard, just keep playing my game and keep contributing, but we need to keep winning,” Nevill said. “When that happens, all the awards that I get are really team awards, the team helps me get those awards.”

Nevill’s shooting from the charity stripe has improved this season. His ability to get to the line is beyond last season’s, with 129 attempts (No. 4 in the MWC) with nine games left. He got to the line 168 times for the entire season last year. He is ninth in league in free throw percentage, shooting 79 percent from the line. Last season he finished at 72 percent from the line.

“I think it’s just confidence,” Nevill said. “I shoot a lot of foul shots in practice and I work on my shot and I kind of have my routine down, so I’m really confident when I go to the line that I’m going to make foul shots.”

Grim out for season

Sophomore forward Morgan Grim broke his foot in practice last week. After undergoing surgery, he expects to miss the rest of the season. In an already fairly small lineup, the Utes will have to go to Luka Drca and Carlon Brown to fill the absence of an always moving rotation in the forward position.

“It affects us a lot,” said Borha in regard to Grim’s absence. “We’re small now, kind of, with Morgan out, but we just have to battle and keep pushing it for Morgan.”

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Tyler Cobb

Luke Nevill received his fourth Mountain West Conference Player of the Week award after a strong offensive week.