Runnin? Utes pick up win, loss in Las Vegas Tournament

By Joseph Simmons , Staff Writer

After upsetting No. 20 Illinois with a buzzer beater Friday night in the Las Vegas Invitational Tournament, the Runnin’ Utes came out flat in the championship game and fell hard to Oklahoma State 77-55.

After falling behind early in their semifinal appearance against Illinois, the Utes made a dramatic comeback, capped off by a game-winning shot by Shawn Glover as time expired.

Although the Utes were able to make adjustments throughout the game against the Fighting Illini, the team went cold and stayed cold the next night against the Cowboys. However, Utah head coach Jim Boylen praised his team’s efforts Friday night against Illinois, which saw them fight back from being down 32-16 at halftime.

“(Luka) Drca found his shooting touch in the second half, and that was huge,” Boylen said. “Carlon Brown trusted in the second half, and we did the little things. We drove the ball, we shared the ball. We were much better in the second half; we made some great adjustments.”

After an overall strong performance against the Fighting Illini, the Utes’ veteran trio of Kim Tillie, Drca and Brown were unable to make any offensive contribution against the Cowboys, combining for only nine points.

The Utes jumped out to an early 7-2 advantage against Oklahoma State but then allowed the Cowboys to score 17 unanswered points, and Utah was down 44-26 by halftime.

The lone bright spot for the Utes Saturday night was junior forward Jay Watkins, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. The game was only Watkins’ second for the Utes, returning from a preseason injury that kept him sidelined for a month.

Oklahoma State continued to pour it on in the second half, going up by as many 24 points, and never let the Utes come closer than 17 points. Oklahoma State’s James Anderson scored at will against Utah, finishing with 26 points, and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Although they had just played a hard-fought game the night before, Boylen said fatigue wasn’t the reason his team was unable to make a comeback, but that it was an inability to make shots when it counted.

The Utes shot just 32.7 percent from the field for the game but allowed the Cowboys to shoot 49.1 percent.

Despite the loss to Oklahoma State, several Utes were recognized for their play during the tournament. Both Watkins and Drca were named to the Las Vegas Invitational All-Tournament Team. In the two games he played in, Watkins scored 26 points on eight of 16 shooting and pulled down 12 rebounds. Drca, who started in all four tournament games, scored 30 points and handed out 12 assists.

The Utes will travel to Ogden on Wednesday to face Weber State.

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Mike Mangum/The Daily Utah Chronicle

Marshall Henderson battles with Ricky Berry for a rebound in the Utes? game in the Las Vegas Invitational. The Utes finished second after losing to Oklahoma State.