Photo Courtesy of Associated Press
It may not rival Utah's win over UTEP in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, but it's a win nevertheless for a Utes team who hasn't seen many in the past three years.
Utah entered the game with a pretty dismal road record, while facing a Miners team that had done fairly well in their home gymnasium over the season. However, Utah pretty much controlled the game outside of a few runs by UTEP and that play propelled them to the 81-69 road victory. The Utes now advance to play Tulsa Monday in the second round of the College Basketball Invitational.
Luke Nevill led the Utes with a double-double, scoring 16 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. Johnnie Bryant, though, was Utah's leading scorer, dropping 17 on the Miners and was 4 of 14 from the field. Tyler (Or Tim as the announcers kept calling him) Kepkay, who has struggled throughout this season, didn't play nearly as bad Wednesday night. Even though he only scored 9 points, Kepkay didn't run the offense into the ground like so many times in the past. So he wasn't the difference maker in the win, but his play did not hurt Utah.
While Utah managed 81 points, running with the quick Miners, it was their defense that stepped it up. Stefon Jackson was held below his season average in points and the Miners only shot 34% from the field and only 37% from outside. The Utes also kept their composure throughout, even though on a couple of occasions they blew a sizable lead -- the most important coming late in the second half. Unlike the traditional wilting we have seen from this Utah team over the year, they toughened up, kept their cool and made the plays down the stretch to preserve their lead and subsequently the victory.
But this was far from a flawless performance from the Utes. They shot only 29% from outside, a startling number when you realize Utah is one of the best 3 point shooting teams in the west. That number didn't hurt them tonight, but it very well could be a factor against Tulsa Monday. The fact UTEP had no one they could throw at Nevill really helped the Utes and that may not happen against the Golden Hurricanes. Utah also had 15 turnovers, compared to only 10 for the Miners. Yet in the end, it doesn't matter, since the Utes got the convincing victory. In fact, I think it speaks a lot for this team to struggle and yet dominate at the same time. UTEP is not a bad team and while they may not be the cream of the crop, they are comparable to Mountain West programs stagnated in the middle of the conference (namely Wyoming and TCU). To go on the road and play a team like this as well as Utah did is pretty good, regardless of what the tournament may be.
Now Utah can focus on another tough test, Tulsa and I'll have more on them later. But for now, they can enjoy the fact they've won 18 games and for those counting, that's now a 7 game improvement over last year's team.
|M. Kilgore (G)||27||8||2-12||16.7||4-9||44.4||0-1||0.0||1||5||6||5||2||0||1||2|
|J. Stone (G)||33||5||2-5||40.0||0-0||0.0||1-2||50.0||2||7||9||7||3||0||1||1|
|S. Jackson (G)||38||20||9-20||45.0||0-0||0.0||2-5||40.0||2||6||8||0||0||0||1||3|
|T. Watts (F)||23||14||4-7||57.1||4-5||80.0||2-3||66.7||1||0||1||0||0||0||3||2|
|V. Ramalho (F)||26||3||0-4||0.0||3-6||50.0||0-0||0.0||3||2||5||0||0||1||0||5|
|L. Drca (G)||19||9||2-5||40.0||4-4||100.0||1-3||33.3||0||3||3||1||0||0||2||5|
|C. Brown (G)||21||9||2-3||66.7||5-6||83.3||0-0||0.0||1||2||3||0||1||0||0||0|
|L. Borha (G)||25||7||1-4||25.0||5-6||83.3||0-1||0.0||2||2||4||2||0||0||3||1|
|S. Green (F)||32||8||3-8||37.5||1-1||100.0||1-4||25.0||0||11||11||3||2||1||3||3|
|K. Tillie (F)||14||4||2-3||66.7||0-0||0.0||0-0||0.0||0||3||3||0||1||0||1||4|