Boylen brings back winning ways

By By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

First place and a five-game win streak8212;does that sound like the Runnin’ Utes team you know?

Unless you’ve been going to the U since 2004-2005 season, seeing the men’s basketball team in first place is like stumbling upon a free tuition pass. After beating San Diego State on Wednesday, the Utes extended their overall win streak to five and their home win streak to eight games. This streak is the longest since the 2004-2005 season, when Utah went 16-0 at home.

With momentum on its side, Utah can extend that home win streak Saturday against the Air Force Falcons, who, after a 9-4 non-conference stretch, have yet to find a win in 10 conference games.

“It’s huge to be in first place right now,” said Ute guard Lawrence Borha. “But we got to keep on working to stay in first place. A lot of people are going to be gunning for us, so we got to continue to get better and we’ll be fine.”

It would be easy for the Utes to let their egos take over, which makes this a classic trap game between the best team in the conference versus the worst team. Head coach Jim Boylen said he realizes that and is trying to ensure his team does, too.

“We talk about being mature, understanding where we’re at and what’s at stake,” Boylen said. “We talk about discipline, being disciplined in our approach and our mentality, and I talk a lot about respecting our opponent.”

The win over the Aztecs and not letting first place get to his team’s heads are the true beginning of the Boylen era. He was given the remnants of former Utah head coach Ray Giacoletti and was told to build a program from that. His recruits were either freshmen or in high school, so he had to find a way to get the players he was handed to buy into his system.

That system was focused on being aggressive on the defensive side of the ball and utilizing a complex playbook on the offensive side. Many of the players who played for Utah before Boylen signed were used to a five- or six-play package. Boylen has come up with different packages based on the opponent. He also uses players’ strengths to incorporate with a different package, the best example being Tyler Kepkay coming off a double screen to get a look at an open 3.

“That first year everyone was like “holy smokes,'” said Boylen on his offensive playbook. “But now it’s our culture, it’s the way we do it and it’s understood, accepted and our guys have thrived in it.”

Boylen admits he didn’t expect to completely rebuild the program his first year on the job, but rather change the culture.

Utah finished the conference with a 7-9 record and an 18-15 record overall, losing a lot of games in their final minutes. If there is anything that could be pointed out as the reason the Utes have been successful this season, it would be their ability to win close games. The Utes are now one victory away from matching last year’s total and are in line for their first berth to the NCAA tournament since 2004-2005.

Credit the seniors for the turnaround, especially down the stretch.

“They’ve had a toughness and a focus at the end and I think they’ve played with a sense of urgency at the end, which you should do as a senior,” Boylen said.

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Thien Sok

Jamie Deetscreek is one of three Red Rocks that made the trip to Lincoln Neb. in 2007 last time and lost. The meet is also a preview for the National Championship site for the Red Rocks that will be held there in April.