Jim Boylen has only coached 10 games at the University of Utah, however, the Cal game might turn out to be one of the biggest of his first season.
The Utes rolled into Berkeley as underdogs and faced a Cal team that hadn't lost at home this season. As Utah built a commanding 16 point lead, they looked poised to cruise. Yet, like so many times last year, the Utes began to crumble and the opposing team roared back. The 16 point lead quickly turned to 7, then 5 and suddenly, with little time left, the game was tied. But the outcome of the game hardly resembled anything like last year, as the Utes buckled down, came out and hit a last second shot to win the game. A year ago, the Utes would have lost this one. This time, though, they didn't.
The final shot by Shaun Green shows the progress Boylen has made with the Utes. But more importantly, it's a major road win against a Pacific Ten team and I can't remember the last time Utah won a game like that. And now Boylen can use this victory as a springboard to future success at Utah, especially if Utah is capable of positioning itself for an NCAA bid. A victory, on the road none the less, over Cal, will look mighty good to the selection committee come April.
Utah's current RPI, which the selection committee uses for tournament seeding, is 90. Not great, but rising. California, at 7-2, comes in at 62. The only Mountain West team with a better RPI than Utah is UNLV at 33. Now clearly this number will dramatically change as the season progresses, but it shows you how much difference there is between this year and last. The Utes never once broke out of 100 range last season and finished the year 132.
But beyond ratings and brackets, the victory signaled that Utah is toughening up as a team. Far too many times last season the Utes were punched in the gut and quickly dropping to the ground, never getting up again. It seemed that Utah would wilt in every close game last year and hopefully this victory allows them to overcome those close game struggles.
Utah will have a pretty easy game tomorrow against Idaho State, then will face their toughest test of the season against Gonzaga New Year's Eve. If the Utes manage to end 2007 with a 9-3 record, watch out. However, I think most Ute fans will settle for 8-4. I know I would.