Photo courtesy of Deseret News
Big first half leads Utah to victoryAfter controlling most of the first half, Utah coasted to a 66-54 victory over the Missouri State Bears. It was Utah's sixth of the season and one of their most impressive. Impressive because, entering the game, Missouri State had an top-40 RPI and were considered as a possible favorite to compete for the Missouri Valley Conference. Utah's victory came after blowing the game open midway through the first half. The Utes cruised to a 17 point halftime lead and after the Bears made a run early in the second half, Utah held them off for the 12 point win.
Leading the Utes was Luke Nevill, who had his best complete game of the year. He had 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting, 6 rebounds and only turned the ball over twice. But it was his defensive performance that stole the show. Nevill recorded 3 blocks and was a beast inside, stopping Missouri State from creating any inside presence. That defensive success, though, reverberated throughout the entire team, as Utah's defense was a thorn in the Bears' side all day.
Defense leadsThe Utes defense held Missouri State to only 20 first half points and 44% shooting on the game. It was by far one of the worst offensive performances for the Bears this season, especially in the first half. But the defensive showcase by Utah shows how far this team has progressed. While last year the defense was a major liability, this season it has been a pleasant surprise, especially perimeter defense. Missouri State only shot 33% from outside, a percentage that was hardly ever seen last year.
Utah also did a good job of keeping Missouri State's players in check. Outside of Dale Lamberth (18 points) and Deven Mitchell (14 points), no one really stepped up and that definitely played into the Bears' woes.
This was a good victory for Utah, as Missouri State has been a pretty decent MVC team. They already own a victory over Rick Majerus' Saint Louis squad and I wouldn't be surprised if they make some noise come conference time.
Quotes from the game
Jim Boylen"I thought Luke Nevill competed for all 30 minutes he was out there today. He had a great week of practice."
"I think we beat a very good team, a very physical team and a very well-coached team today. I thought this was the best team we've played all year in our building. We've got to build a winning program, and today was a step in the right direction."
"Lawrence (Borha) is a good player. When he plays in control and with discipline, I think he can be a great player."
"I love our home crowd. I really love being out there on the court with our team. It's a great building with a lot of tradition."
Tyle Kepkay"Today was a must-win game against a very good team."
Missouri State Head Coach Barry Hinson"Regardless of the outcome, after those eight minutes (at the start of the second half), we played the game with our entire hearts. I thought we had a lot of good efforts from this game. We out-rebounded them in the first half. Our guys did what we asked of them. They kept the ball out of [Luke] Nevill's hands and in the second half we asked them to start hitting their 15-foot jumpers, and they did. I think we did a good job coming back in the second half, but we had trouble with the free-throw shots down the stretch."
What's next...Utah goes on the road to take on Cal. It'll be a tough game, as Cal is 6-1 on the season and with it being a road game, the Utes will need to play its best game of the season. Tip-off is scheduled for 4:00 Salt Lake time.