Runnin? Utes to begin regular season against Idaho

By Joseph Simmons , Staff Writer

The 2009-2010 men’s basketball regular season will officially get under way tonight, as the Runnin’ Utes host the University of Idaho Vandals at 7 p.m. at the Huntsman Center.

The Utes and Vandals will be meeting for the first time since 1976, and both teams are coming off victories in their exhibition games. The Vandals downed St. Martin’s at home 87-61, and the Utes beat the University of Findlay 83-70.

The season-opener gives Utah a chance to take what it learned from its preseason scrimmages and the exhibition game against Findlay to start winning games that will count in the record books. Junior guard Carlon Brown said that the team will need to step things up another level if it wants to start the season the right way.

“Idaho will have seen the video from (Saturday),” Brown said. “If we want to win, we’ll have to cut down on the sloppy play. We can’t turn the ball over like we have been, and we’ll need to be more aggressive on the boards.”

Under head coach Jim Boylen, the Utes have posted a 45-25 record, but Boylen is 1-1 in season-opening games. Last season, Utah was shocked at home in its season opener by Southwest Baptist, falling 80-79.

The Vandals will be returning with most of their players on a squad that went 17-16 last year and finished third-place in the WAC. The team will be led by senior guards Steffan Johnson and Mac Hopson. Johnson is a junior college transfer who redshirted last season and will be making his debut for Vandal fans. He was picked as the WAC’s Preseason Newcomer of the Year and Hopson was named to the preseason all-WAC first team.

Hopson led all Idaho scorers last season, averaging 16.8 points per game, and managed to give out 5.88 assists per game as well.

The Utes will look to their veteran trio of Luka Drca, Kim Tillie and Brown, all three of whom were named team captains earlier in the week along with redshirt sophomore Tre Smith. Although Boylen said he has seen other players stepping up as the regular season drew near, the role of the team captains for the Utes can’t be understated.

“Our captains are invaluable to our program,” Boylen said. “We rely on them to make decisions, bring leadership and take ownership of everything we do.”

Last season, Brown averaged 9.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, Drca averaged 7.7 points and 3.45 assists per game, and Tillie averaged 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 points per game.

Utah holds a 12-2 all-time record against Idaho, including an 11-0 mark at the Huntsman Center and has won nine consecutive games against the Vandals.

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