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Utes fight, come up short against UNLV

The regular season came to an end for Utah much like it started four months ago, with a tough to swallow close loss. Like their third game of the season against Washington, Utah stayed competitive Saturday afternoon against the Rebels, but ultimately fell in the waning minutes of the game. The loss drops Utah to 16-13 on the season and 6th in the conference, which means the Utes will open the Mountain West Tournament against New Mexico, who went 2-0 against the Utes this season.

Though Utah lost, much like every other loss this season, it wasn't without effort. Utah in fact led by 1 at the half and tied the game with less than 2 minutes to go, before the bottom fell out and the Rebels put the Utes away. Those struggles have become commonplace, however, as this game has shown, there is hope. If Utah can only find a way to win these close games they go from hovering above .500 to possibly beating down the door to the NCAA Tournament and that definitely seems possible as this program grows under Boylen.

But you can't ignore the fact this team has shown a real lack of toughness down the stretch. It's as if in every close game Utah completely forgets how to play at the level that made the game close in the first place. They panic to the point where things almost always go wrong, a key turnover or a bad shot and it costs them the game. We saw that Saturday against UNLV. With the Utes down 2 and the clock becoming a bigger issue by the second, UNLV's press forced Nevill into a bad turnover and that proved to be the defining moment of the game. If Utah can become more mentally tough in close games, they will vastly improve. But right now, playing as poorly as they are in the final minutes of tight games has left them a mediocre program and will continue to ground any possibility they may have. Luckily, I think as Boylen continues getting the players he needs and these players have more time to gain the confidence needed to win these close games, the results will improve.

Even though the loss hurt, Utah didn't play horrible. While their defense struggled, allowing UNLV to shoot nearly 50% from the field, as well as 47% from outside, Utah still managed to shoot 46% from the field, however, they did struggle on the perimeter, only hitting 20% of their threes. But Luke Nevill had a pretty decent game, scoring 22 points and Johnnie Bryant and Carlon Brown weren't bad, either. Yet the Utes still did not have as much production from their point guards as they need to be competitive and this seems to hurt Utah more than anything. In fact, Brown looks to be a more enticing point guard than either Kepkay or Drca -- which tells you how poor the Utes are that this spot.

Even if it wasn't enough to win, Utah finishes the regular season only really being blown out once. They've been in pretty much every other game, which means if they only slightly improve between this year and next, it could dramatically change next year's record for the better. And while I've had my doubts about this team's overall progression, the fact is, they have improved. Last year they were blown out in a lot more games and totally resigned to the idea of losing long before the season was nearing an end. This year's Utes do not give up, fighting back even when it looks like they have little chance. If they improve at the level they did between this season and last, I see no reason why they can't hope for at least 20-wins. But that will require getting the needed depth and toughening this team up mentally. If Boylen can do that, Utah will be a good team next year. If he can't, next year will be a mirror of this season and that's something I doubt any Ute fan wants.

Box Score:

Player Stats
UNLV Players

MIN PTS FG FG% FT FT% 3PT 3PT% OR DR REB AST STL BLK TO PF
W. Adams (G) 34 14 2-7 28.6 9-11 81.8 1-5 20.0 0 3 3 1 1 0 2 2
C. Terry (G) 38 22 7-12 58.3 4-4 100.0 4-6 66.7 0 5 5 10 1 0 6 3
R. Rougeau (G) 38 8 4-11 36.4 0-0 0.0 0-1 0.0 4 4 8 2 2 3 1 3
C. Bailey (F) 34 14 6-7 85.7 2-2 100.0 0-0 0.0 1 4 5 1 0 0 2 3
J. Darger (F) 20 3 1-5 20.0 0-0 0.0 1-3 33.3 0 2 2 0 1 0 0 1
M. Rutledge 14 0 0-1 0.0 0-0 0.0 0-1 0.0 0 1 1 1 1 0 1 2
M. Shaw 20 9 3-4 75.0 0-1 0.0 3-3 100.0 1 5 6 1 0 0 0 1
K. Wallace 2 0 0-0 0.0 0-0 0.0 0-0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Utah Players

MIN PTS FG FG% FT FT% 3PT 3PT% OR DR REB AST STL BLK TO PF
L. Borha (G) 19 2 1-3 33.3 0-0 0.0 0-1 0.0 1 1 2 1 0 0 0 2
C. Brown (G) 31 10 4-6 66.7 2-3 66.7 0-1 0.0 0 1 1 3 0 0 0 2
L. Drca (G) 36 7 3-10 30.0 0-0 0.0 1-4 25.0 0 6 6 5 0 0 4 2
S. Green (F) 34 2 1-4 25.0 0-0 0.0 0-2 0.0 0 3 3 2 0 0 0 3
K. Tillie (F) 16 6 2-7 28.6 2-2 100.0 0-0 0.0 3 1 4 1 1 0 1 3
L. Nevill 27 22 9-15 60.0 4-5 80.0 0-0 0.0 4 2 6 2 2 2 3 3
J. Bryant 27 12 5-11 45.5 0-0 0.0 2-7 28.6 0 2 2 0 1 0 1 2
T. Kepkay 8 0 0-0 0.0 0-0 0.0 0-0 0.0 0 1 1 0 1 0 1 0
M. Grim 2 2 1-1 100.0 0-0 0.0 0-0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1