UTAH CLOBBERS CAL-DAVIS IN 106-72 ROUT - `A GAME WE BOOKED TO WIN,' SAYS MAJERUS
TEAM BAND-AID: UTES FINALLY GET A CHANCE FOR A FULL-TEAM WORKOUT.After two exhibition games, a month of practices and a ton of injuries, the University of Utah - Team Band-Aid in your program - finally and officially opened the 1990-91 basketball season Saturday night in the Huntsman Center. It was nooo contest. The Utes claimed a no-sweat, empty-the-bench 106-72 victory over the University of California-Davis.
All of which is about what Utah coach Rick Majerus expected. "That's a game we booked to win," he said.And then some.
The Utes took a 12-2 lead to begin the game and watched it grow steadily the rest of the night, much to the delight of the 10,497 attending fans. The Utes' lead - which was 21 points at halftime (51-30) - finally peaked at 36 in the final minute. Josh Grant scored 21 points, Jimmy Soto 15, Phil Dixon 14, etc., etc. Fifteen Utes played; Fifteen Utes scored.
When the game was finished, it was difficult to say what it all meant. UC-Davis is a Division II team. It does not give athletic scholarships.
"They served their purpose," said Majerus. "They played hard."
For their part, the Utes seemed to play a nearly flawless game. Or did they? "It's all relative," said Majerus. "We're bigger, better." Well, the Utes did shoot 62 percent from the field (40 of 65), including 8 of 15 from three-point range. The Aggies, led by Mark Jones' 19 points, shot 45 percent from the field.
Grant scored his 21 points in 28 minutes, making 9 of 12 field goal attempts. He also had 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and just 1 turnover.
But the Utes already knew about Grant. What they didn't know was how some of his teammates were progressing. The Utes have had so many injuries during their preseason practice that it wasn't until Thursday - Thanksgiving Day, appropriately enough - that the team was healthy enough to practice in its entirety. Saturday's rout gave Majerus ample opportunity to give everyone a workout. Everyone, that is, except Byron Wilson, the team's starting point guard. He showed up 30 seconds late for a team meeting, and thus was benched for the game.
"I've got to give him credit," said Majerus. "He handled it like a man. He was very happy for the team success."
Majerus started Phil Dixon in place of Wilson. Dixon, you might remember, fell through a plate glass window 11 months ago, severing a major nerve in his lower left leg. Nobody has known what to expect from him this season. After playing in one exhibition game, his ankle swelled so severely that he reluctantly asked if his playing time could be limited to 12 minutes. "I'm still not 100 percent," he says, "but I'm getting better. My jumping and lateral quickness are still only about 70 percent."
But his shooting form appears fully recovered. On Saturday, Dixon made 6 of 8 field goal attempts - 2 of 3 treys - and totaled 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover and 1 steal in 27 minutes of play.
"I played him way too many minutes," said Majerus. "I kept asking him if he wanted to come out, but he said no."
"I just wanted to play," Dixon explained, but he admits, "The doctors are shocked I'm playing."
Dixon is just one of many Utes who have missed all or most of preseason practice because of injuries, but all of them were on the floor Saturday night.
Paul Afeaki and Craig Rydalch didn't begin practicing with the team until two days earlier - Afeaki because of a pulled hamstring and Rydalch because of surgery on his right ankle.
"You're in better shape than they are," said Majerus to one reporter. "Afeaki is in terrible shape. Rydalch is worse. Dixon is in abominable condition."
Still, Afeaki - 6-foot-10, agile and a quick leaper - had 12 points and 7 rebounds in nine minutes of play.
"I've just been trying to get in shape in the last week," said Afeaki.
Rydalch - who wasn't expected to play for at least another week - had four points in 11 minutes - and sprained his left (good) ankle. "He wanted to play so badly, so I let him," said Majerus.
Then there was McKay M'Grath. He was limping noticeably because of shin splints, but still managed 7 points. "He'll have them (shin splints) all year," said Majerus. "I'm not going to practice him (Sunday)."
The Utes have little remaining time to recover from their injuries. They play three games next week, beginning Monday night against Seattle Pacific.