SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Utes are getting quite defensive these days — and it's paying off.
In Tuesday night's 67-60 win over Pepperdine, they forced 17 turnovers and limited the visiting Waves to just 3-of-17 accuracy from the 3-point range.
"Our defense is getting better," said Utah coach Jim Boylen. "Guys are taking pride in it, and we have to keep moving forward with that."
The Utes (6-2) have now held five opponents to under 40 percent shooting this season and prevailed each time. They held Pepperdine (3-7) to 38.5 percent accuracy and racked up a season-high 12 steals.
Seven of the swipes were recorded by forward Will Clyburn, tying Andre Miller for the second-most in a game in team history. The junior also finished with a game-high 23 points and 13 rebounds.
"It was a good night," Clyburn said while crediting his teammates. "I was just out there playing hard."
The latter, Boylen noted, was applicable to the entire team.
"I thought we really played hard," he said after Utah accomplished its second three-game winning streak of the season.
The Utes, however, struggled a bit with Pepperdine's physical play. The Waves wound up winning the rebound battle, 44-37.
"That's a place we have to grow," Boylen said. "We have to become more physical and rebound the ball better."
For a good portion of the first half, there were almost as many turnovers as made baskets.
Things eventually improved in that regard. However, the cold shooting continued for both teams.
Pepperdine was 13-of-35 from the field in the first half, while Utah connected on just 10-of-31. The Utes missed their final four attempts as a 26-20 lead dissolved over the final 4:05.
The Waves capitalized on the situation and reeled off nine unanswered points — scoring on three layups and a 3-pointer — to take a 29-26 advantage into the break.
"We came in at halftime and we knew we were playing hard," said Utah center Jason Washburn. "We knew all the shots were there, It was just a matter of finding them and making them."
Pepperdine increased its lead to 31-26 early in the second half before Utah ended its scoring drought when Washburn rebounded his own miss with a layup. The sophomore later added a dunk to even the score at 35-35 with 17:13 left to play.
Both teams held brief leads over the ensuing stretch that also included four more ties.
The Utes managed to pull away, though, when junior guard Chris Kupets hit back-to-back 3-pointers over a 43-second span to make it 51-45 with 8:26 remaining.
Pepperdine drew no closer than three the rest of the way.
"I thought we responded at halftime. I thought our energy the second half was great," Boylen said. "And I thought our running game was awesome. We got some dunks. We got flying and running, and I thought it changed the game."16 comments on this story
The Utes return to action Friday at Michigan (6-2). Their next home game is Dec. 17 against Boise State.
Utah football team honored at halftime
Head coach Kyle Whittingham thanked the crowd for their support this season before introducing senior captains Zane Taylor and Christian Cox. Both players encouraged fans to attend the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas game against Boise State on Dec. 22.
Senior safety Justin Taplin-Ross drew the biggest applause with a slam dunk to close out the halftime ceremony.
The Utes resume bowl practices today.