No. 1 again

By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

Four years later, the Runnin’ Utes are back on top.

In his final game in the Huntsman Center, senior forward Shaun Green led all scorers with 20 points, including six 3-pointers in the Utes’ 68-49 victory over TCU on Saturday. With the win, Utah captured a share of the Mountain West Conference title for the first time in four years.

“To win a championship in your last game and senior night, you tell me a better way to go out,” Green said.

Aside from Green, fellow seniors Luke Nevill and Lawrence Borha stepped up during a game that was played in their honor. On “Senior Night”, Nevill recorded yet another double-double with 14 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, while Borha jumpstarted the Utah offense with seven early points en route to a 14-2 start. The senior from Staten Island, N.Y., finished up with 12 points and six rebounds.

The seniors have had a long road to this title and are happy to have left their mark when the thought was non-existent three years ago.

“It’s amazing,” said an awestruck Nevill. “I was lucky enough to be here my red-shirt year when we won a championship, but to be playing and one of the reasons for our success and winning, is a great feeling.”

Head soach Jim Boylen couldn’t hold back the tears when talking about the growth of his seniors over the two years he’s been at the U. The crew of graduating players have come a long way from players with individual egos in a broken program to becoming team leaders that have established relationships with the whole program.

“I beat them up, broke them down and then they built us back up,” said an emotional Boylen.

The Horned Frogs came out and looked as if they knew it was Utah’s day to win a championship. The Utes started the game with a lot of energy and by halftime they led by seven, 31-24, thanks a lackluster last eight minutes of play by Utah.

As the time ticked away in the second half, Utah would progressively extend its lead over the Horned Frogs with precise ball movement and timely shots.

“The second half, we just did what we do, which is just play basketball,” Green said.

Green talked all season about how growing up, Utah was the place he wanted to play. To be able to leave his mark with 6-for-9 shooting from the 3-point line was pure joy for the senior. His maturity has shown over the past two years, but he didn’t credit himself for the big game.

“I shot the ball pretty well tonight but I credit it to my teammates,” Green said. “The whole game those guys were talking about not leaving me but they had to cause my teammates were making plays. Then they found me and I was open and I just made some shots.”

The game is not reflective of what Utah has done all season. Although the Utes could be considered as a second half team, blowouts have not come in waves.

It’s been a season of close games in which the Utes have found ways to win. With the unexplainable losses to Southwest Baptist and Idaho State, there were the remarkable victories against Gonzaga, Oregon and LSU in the Huntsman Center.

Riding a eight-game win streak 10 days ago, the outright title seemed all but wrapped up and delivered for Utah, but co-MWC champions New Mexico and BYU were too tough for the Utes and brought them down from their high in consecutive losses.

What they couldn’t do was steal a taste of a conference championship from Utah, which Boylen described as a “great natural high”.

“What this team did this year with the schedule we had was unbelievable,” Boylen said. “What these guys have done, from where they came from, I think it’s a great story.”

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Tyler Cobb