Key players to see more bench time

By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

Lack of depth is a cause for concern for the Runnin’ Utes in a tournament that could force them to play three games in three days.

Throughout the season, seven players received the majority of the minutes, which seemed to work out fine for the 21-win team. But tournament play is different. Although head coach Jim Boylen frequently rotates players in and out, it’s usually only between his starting lineup and bench players Shaun Green and Tyler Kepkay. Boylen expects to work eight or nine players into the rotation for the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

“With three games in three days you’re going to need your whole roster,” Boylen said.

Fresh legs are a vital part of success for a team that plans on making a run. Morgan Grim is slated to be on the roster after X-rays of his broken foot revealed the injury has healed.

“He’ll be available to play in the tournament,” Boylen said. “How available, we’ll see how the week goes. He could play on it today and tomorrow and be sore, I don’t know. But he has been cleared, the X-ray looks great and I’m excited for him.”

With Grim in the lineup, Utah gets a boost in size on the floor. Kim Tillie usually gets the start in the four spot, but is only averaging 13.7 minutes per game in conference play. Green and Luke Nevill don’t ride the bench very often, averaging 29 and 33 minutes, respectively.

Similar to the roles of the big guys, the guards will rotate in and out all game long. Kepkay, Carlon Brown, Luka Drca, and Lawrence Borha get the most time, but split time between three positions.

Boylen announced that freshmen guards Jordan Cyphers and Jace Tavita will play in the tournament, giving Utah a six-guard rotation, instead of the four it saw for the majority of the regular season.

“I go into every game thinking those guys are going to play,” Boylen said. “(It) depends on matchups, lineups and situations, but they’re prepared to play every game.”

Last season, eventual champion UNLV used an average of eight players throughout the tournament. In the final, they met up with BYU, which went even deeper, using an average of 10 players per game. Seven of the eight players for the Rebels averaged more than 18 minutes, while all five starters averaged more than 25. The Cougars were similar in regard to how they dispersed the time on the floor.

The trend in tournament play seems to be that six or seven players will get the bulk of the minutes, and the coaches will use reserves to give players a rest. Most will average around six minutes per game without doing much besides giving the other players a break.

Every team, including Utah, seems to use that strategy in tournament play.

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Tyler Cobb

Guard Jace Tavita will play a critical role during this week?s conference tournament, providing the Utes fresh legs off the bench to give others a break.