Moving starters to the bench seems like a calculated risk for any basketball team. For Utah, such a move is fast becoming a formula for success.
Johnnie Bryant became one of the team's top scorers after moving to a reserve role a season ago. After making similar moves this season, Tyler Kepkay and Shaun Green appear to be headed down a similar path.
The duo, both starters a year ago, came off the bench to combine for 44 points in the Utes 95-81 victory over Oregon on Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center.
Kepkay led all scorers with 23 points matching a career high he set against the Ducks last season. Green had 21 points and six rebounds. Both players followed the blueprint Jim Boylen had in mind when he asked them to accept reserve roles.
"That's what coach envisioned with us coming off the bench bringing a lot of energy and scoring," Kepkay said.
Energy and scoring were certainly not an issue in the first half when Green and Kepkay helped break open a tight game with a series of crucial baskets.
After the Ducks tied it up at 20-20 on Josh Crittle's jumper with 12:44 left, Kepkay drove for consecutive layups to put the Utes back ahead four at 24-20. His second came after he picked Kamyron Brown's pocket near midcourt and raced back the other way.
Then Green sparked a three-point shooting fest when he drained consecutive shots from long range to extend the Ute lead to 30-22.
A similar thing happened at different points when Oregon threatened to mount a rally in the second half.
When Oregon cut the lead to 68-55 after Garett Sim drained two straight three-pointers, Green answered with a layup and 3-pointer to boost the Ute advantage back up to 16 points at 73-57.
The Ducks twice trimmed it to within ten points later first on a fastbreak layup by Churchill Odia that made it 76-66 and then a three-pointer from Odia that cut the lead to 84-74. Oregon could not chip away at the lead for long because Kepkay and Green kept teaming up to bury the Ducks with timely baskets.
Green and Kepkay combined to score 18 of the team's final 27 points to keep Oregon on its heels.7 comments on this story
Boylen expects both former starters to provide leadership and instant offense off the bench and Green feels like improved production for both them is a result of understanding their roles better.
"We've both adapted to it pretty well so far and we're just trying to do anything to help the team win right now," Green said.
Boylen has nothing but praise for the unselfish attitude the two seniors have shown. He acknowledged that most players dream of starting for their basketball team, but said that Kepkay and Green have put aside personal glory to help the Utes grow and improve."They've accepted that this is best for us to win basketball games," Boylen said. "You have to give them the credit for it. Those were tough conversations for me with them. They made it easy."