Photo courtesy of University of Utah
Utes struggle, beat Idaho StateThis had trap written all over it. Utah was coming off an emotional road win over Cal, a decent Pac Ten team, and looking ahead to their big showdown with Gonzaga. So it's no wonder Idaho State kept things close and forced the Utes to fight tooth and nail for the victory. But a win is a win and I'm guessing Utah will take it.
The Utes entered the game 7-3 and a double digit favorite to easily cruise to victory. However, the Bengals employed a stingy zone defense that kept Luke Nevill from doing much of anything on the night, while keeping Idaho State in the game. That gave them just enough hope that maybe they were about to pull off the mega-upset. A hope that worked its way dangerously late into the second half before the Utes pulled away for the 17 point victory. A margin that is not indicative of the feistiness of the Bengals.
Johnnie Bryant led the Utes with 17 points on 5-9 shooting, including 4 three pointers, while Nevill had 14 and 6 boards. But his poor play, especially his soft defense, severely strained the Utes' ability to bulldoze through a clearly overmatched opponent. Idaho State had entered the game with only two wins and had been blown out by 30 or more in their last three games.
On the defensive end, Utah didn't play too poorly. Idaho State only managed to shoot 42% from the field and a meager 27% from outside. They also kept Matt Stucki, the Bengals' top scorer, below his season average, though not by much. Only two Idaho State players managed 10 or more points, Stucki with 10 and Amorrow Morgan with 17.
Idaho State did a commendable job of slowing the pace down early, but Utah's clear advantage was too much for the Bengals, especially late in the second half. An 11-0 run late put Idaho State away for good and the Utes won their third in a row and 6 of 7. Though not pretty, Utah ran their record to 8-3 and are only 3 victories from matching last year's win total.
Quotes from the game
Jim Boylen"We're thankful for the win and we're practicing at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning. No disrespect to Idaho State. They did a nice job; the zone bothered us. Their length bothered us. I gotta give them credit. Coach O'Brien did a nice job. They were ready to play. They will do well in their league."
"It was a very difficult game to play after break and after a big win. I'm not making any excuses. I didn't think we came to play, I didn't think we were ready to play. I'm not insulting Idaho State, we won by 17, but I think you guys know where I'm coming from."
"I thought we got selfish. I thought we weren't tough. I thought we missed every loose ball. Gotta give them [Idaho State] credit; they got the loose balls, we didn't. I don't like a team that doesn't get loose balls. I don't like a team that doesn't battle and scrap. We're not good enough yet not to do that. Don't worry, we'll be getting loose balls tomorrow morning."
"In the second half, I thought Johnnie Bryant and Shaun Green were great. Luka Drca -- when he settled down -- was good. He is a very creative guy. He can make plays off the dribble and I thought he did that."
"I thought we had some open 3-pointers. I thought we missed Luke [Nevill] inside and I also thought that Luke missed some bunnies inside that he's got to make. Luke has to do a better job of playing through contact. That's what I told him when I took him out."
Johnnie Bryant"In the huddle we just said that we have to defend, get stops, and make open looks. We started being patient against the zone and got a couple of layups here and a 3 there and started hitting free throws. It paid off. But at the end of the day we didn't play well. We did enough to get the win though."
"Coach puts me in situations where I can get the team going, as far as making open shots. My job is to knock them down and if not, do other things like defend and help the younger guys."
What's next...The Utes now travel to Spokane to take on Gonzaga Monday night. The game is scheduled for a 6:00 start Salt Lake time and will air on Fox Sports Net, however, won't be seen on FSN Utah since the Jazz play that night. A victory over Gonzaga should have the Utes knocking on the top-25 door, though, that might be too much to ask, as Gonzaga is a tough home team.