Coming off of a week which saw the University of Utah men's basketball team lose a tough one on the road to San Diego St. and bounce back to blow out what looks like a bad Air Force squad in Colorado Springs, the Utes welcomed the 6-11 Colorado State Rams into Salt Lake City. Armed with the 13-0, number 2-ranked football team in the stands (and on the floor as part of a loud halftime tribute), the Runnin' Utes seemed to feed off the crowd's energy, especially in the second half, in rolling to a comfortable 82-66 victory over the short-handed and, well, just plain short Rams.
Led by Senior center Luke Nevill's 19 points, 7 rebounds and 6 blocks, Utah was able to take advantage of CSU's lack of depth (and height) in the second half, after the Rams stood toe-to-toe with the Utes in the first half, which ended in a 35-35 tie. As is the case with most of the Utes' previous opponents, it looked like Colorado State's main gameplan was to slow down the All-Conference performer Nevill by attacking him on offense and double (and sometimes triple) teaming him on the other end of the court. The plan seemed to work pretty well in the first half as Nevill was held to just 7 points, but the Utah big men were able to wear down CSU's in the second half, partly due to the absence of Rams' big man Dan Vandervieren, who sat out his third straight game due to a sore back. Andy Ogide also got into foul trouble late in the game, which allowed the Utes to really pull away in the final minutes.
Lawrence Borha scored 20 points for the Utes (12-6, 3-1 MWC), who now hold a share of first place in the Mountain West with TCU. Senior guard Tyler Kepkay added 17 points on 6-10 shooting; Sophomore forward Carlon Brown used his off-the-dribble explosiveness to score 13 points and dish out 8 assists. He also pulled down 7 boards.
Andy Ogide led the Rams with 19 points and 10 rebounds. He used his athleticism to get around Nevill several times for nice layups; Ogide also displayed a good stroke on fall-away jumpers. Guard Harvey Perry was also impressive, showing the ability to hit key 3-point shots to keep his team in the game. I was a little baffled as to why Tim Miles went away from him so early, as there was about a three-minute span early in the second half where Perry connected on several long distance jumpers. CSU's senior leader Marcus Walker struggled mightily on offense - finishing just 2-11 from the floor with 9 points, which is almost 7 points below his season average.
Overall, both teams look to be much improved as compared to last season. Colorado State has the potential to be a tough match for just about every team in the conference if they are able to get - and stay - healthy. They also seem to have a good nucleus of young players. As for Utah, their time is now with Nevill, Kepkay, Borha, and 3-point threat Shaun Green all being seniors. The Utes look to stick to their winning ways going (they've won 6 of their last 7 games) a week from today at UNLV.