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Utes rally, defeat UC Irvine

Saturday, December 1st
  1 2 Total
UC Irvine 28 38 66
Utah Utes 31 47 78

Photo courtesy of Deseret News

Slow start nearly dooms Utah

After a strong run to end the first half, Utah looked as if it would roll past UC Irvine, however, a flurry of threes gave the Anteaters a 12-point lead early in the second half, leaving the Utes wounded and on the brink of another embarrassing home loss. But, unlike so many times last year, the Utes stormed back and eventually won the contest 78-66, a closer victory than the score indicates.

Utah's success came on the back of Lawrence Borha, who finished with 24 points on 9-10 shooting, including a perfect 3 for 3 from outside. Borha also pulled down 8 rebounds, a game high. The Utes outscored Irvine 47-38 in the second half, including 16-3 in the final minutes. Shaun Green and freshman Carlon Brown both had 12 points each, while Luke Nevill scored 11 and had 7 rebounds in 30 minutes of play.

Nevill's continued struggles

While Luke Nevill came on strong toward the end of the game, it was another lackluster effort for the big man. Even with all the progress Utah has made over the past few weeks, Nevill continues to regress as a player. His inability to get inside and go hard to the basket was on full display Saturday. He only managed 4 points in the first half of the game and was rarely forceful in attacking the basket. For Utah to succeed this season, he is going to have to toughen up, especially once conference play rolls around. But with how he hasn't improved at all since game one, it doesn't look like that will be a possibility.

Strong second half defense

The barrage of threes, some uncontested, kept the Anteaters in the game, however, their shooting cooled off as Utah stepped up their defensive intensity. Even accounting for the early 25-10 run to start the second half by UC Irvine, Utah held them to 46% shooting in the second half. Irvine did, however, finish with nearly 60% shooting from three point range. A statistic that is eerily reminiscent of last year's defensive deficiencies.

Even though Utah's defense didn't play all that great, they still managed to step it up when it counted the most. In the final five minutes of the game, they only allowed 5 points. Though that very well could have been fatigue setting in rather than Utah's defense playing profoundly well.

UC Irvine's leading scorer was Kevin Bland, who had 14 points on 9-5 shooting. This loss marked the 4th straight for the Anteaters, who a few weeks ago crushed Utah State, the Utes' next opponent.

Quotes from the game

Jim Boylen

"I've said this, we have to know how to win and know how to be a winning team. We have to learn how to play through adversity and win when we don't play well on one end or the other. I think today we took a step towards becoming a winning team, toward understanding the effort and toughness of what it takes to win."

"You have to give Irvine credit. They made shots that we didn't think they were going to make. In all of the film we watched, they were an inside team. But they came out and made shots and played loose."

"I think we missed a lot of open shots, but you've got to win games when you miss open shots. You've got to win games when they are making all of their open shots. I think we did a good job. We bore down."

"I would just like to say about Lawrence Borha, when you put discipline and effort together with talent, usually a guy is pretty good. He is a talented guy and he has discipline now. He's playing the game the right away, and he's having success. I am thankful for him."

Lawrence Borha

"It felt like a regular game to me. I just tried to play hard and help my team win. There were opportunities my team got me open shots and I knocked them down. There were times where I got the ball to my team and they knocked down open shots. It was all on my team today."

UC Irvine Coach Pat Douglass

"I thought we played a good 34 minutes of basketball. We wore down a little bit, didn't make our free throws. We didn't do some things down the stretch that you've got to do to win ball games -- like screen out on a free throw -- that you have to do to win a game like this on the road."

What's next...

Utah will take on instate rival Utah State December 5th at the Huntsman Center. The Utes lost last year to the Aggies in Logan on a last second three pointer and will be looking for a bit of revenge in Salt Lake. If the Utes win, it'll mark the first time since the 2004-2005 season that they started the season with a 5-2 record. That year Utah went on to play in the Sweet 16 and also had a close loss to Washington in a preseason tournament.