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Utes cruise past Crusaders

Tuesday, November 6th
  1 2 Total
Northwest Nazarene 22 21 43
Utah Utes 42 46 88

Photo courtesy of Deseret News

Utah dominates Northwest Nazarene

Game two of Utah's exhibition season was much like game one, with Utah rolling to victory over an overwhelmed opponent. This time the Utes crushed Division II Northwest Nazarene (a small college located in Nampa, Idaho) 88-43. This game was the final tune-up before Utah's season kicks off this Saturday at home against South Carolina Upstate.

While Utah won with ease, the the Utes appeared to be slow out of the gate, as the Crusaders challenged Utah early in the first half. After holding a slim 15-8 advantage at the 13:47 mark, the Utes exploded and rolled to a 20 point halftime lead. They never looked back, as Northwest Nazarene would not challenge again.

Leading the way for Utah was Luke Nevill with 19 points on 7 of 10 shooting. He also pulled down 8 boards and recorded 2 blocks for the Utes. Stephen Weigh, for the second straight game, played extremely well, as he finished with 17 points and was a perfect 6-6 from the field. The offensive success from last year appears to have carried over, as the Utes shot 61% on the night and 50% from behind the arc. But offense was never an issue last season, rather it was defensive lapses that plagued the Utes. This looks to have changed, though, as Utah put up a fine defensive effort against the Crusaders -- well as fine as one can expect against this type of opponent.

Defense shines

Utah's defense continues its quest to improve over last year's results and last night's game was a big step in that regard. The Utes held Northwest Nazarene to only 43 points and 29% shooting, including only 26% from outside -- a major weakness for Utah last year. The defensive mindset of Utah has paid off over the past two games, keeping overmatched offenses in check for most of each game. Tuesday night, that defense held junior guard Justin Parnell -- highly regarded as the best player for the Crusaders -- to 0-5 shooting. Northwest Nazarene's leading scorer was Tyler Roberts, who finished the night with only 10 points.

The defensive effort has been emphasized by the new coaching staff and it does seem it has taken root with the players. And while you can't get enough information from one game against a poor opponent, there are some reasons for optimism. The biggest, in my opinion, is three point defense, which lagged considerably last year. The fact the Crusaders only shot 26% from there shows strong improvement that should carry over into the preseason and conference season.

Past foe

This wasn't the first time Utah played Northwest Nazarene. In fact, the two met in Salt Lake two years ago during Ray Giacoletti's rebuilding effort in the post-Bogut world. That game didn't go nearly as well, though Utah still prevailed. The Utes won that game 79-51, but the Crusaders fared far better than they did Tuesday night.

With what proved to be a foreboding of future struggles, Northwest Nazarene shot 40% from the field and 40% from outside in 2005. That ugly statistic was more than just an anomaly under Ray Giacoletti, it proved to be a trend. But with actual defensive teaching, Utah looked like a completely different team than they did under Giacoletti's leadership. Now let's just hope the results are different, as well.

Quotes from the game

Jim Boylen

"I tell my guys I get mad at them because I know they can do better. The day they want me to stop expecting them to get better is the day it's not going to work."

"If we communicate, I think we can be pretty good. I think that first half we were moving and talking pretty good."

"We have to improve our rebounding and our decisions on the break. We'll work on our execution on both ends."

Tyler Kepkay

"The coaches have told me to go out and make plays -- not necessarily to get a shot off, but to put us in position to win. Since then, I've been playing a lot better."

"I'm just trying to distribute. If they take away passes I'll shoot pull-ups and just be as pure a point guard as I can be."

Northwest Nazarene Head Coach Tim Hills

"That's what happens when you have a team like theirs play a team like ours. They shot well and played well. I think they have a really nice basketball team."

What's next...

Utah opens their season against South Carolina Upstate Friday night. The game is set for a 7:00 start at the Huntsman Center and tickets are still available.