For a full 20 minutes after Monday night's game, Utah coach Rick Majerus kept his players behind closed doors, lecturing them about their poor performance against Seattle Pacific University. And these guys were the winners. Big winners. The Utes clobbered SPU 68-41.
It's just that no one was particularly happy about it. "Happy about it? No, who would be?" said Majerus.Taking on their second Division II sparring partner in three days, the Utes used the Falcons for little more than a formal practice session, albeit one with 9,633 fans watching in the Huntsman Center. Majerus conducted quick courtside clinics with his players. He played key reserves such as Craig Rydalch and Paul Afeaki - who both missed the vast majority of preseason practice with injuries - much of the night, because, as he explained, "I'm trying to play them into shape." He experimented with various lineup combinations, sometimes putting two centers on the floor at one time, other times playing four guards at once. By the time the game was five minutes old, all but one of the Ute starters were on the bench.
Was it any wonder that the Utes looked ragged much of the night? Nevertheless, they were too much for the Falcons. The Utes led by just three points with 3:23 left in the first half, but by halftime their lead was 13 points (39-26). It was never that close again. The Utes won by 27 points, which means they have won their first two games of the season by a combined total of 61 points.
So much for fun and (easy) games. Now things get serious. The Utes meet their first Division I opponent of the season, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Wednesday night in Milwaukee, and then play Michigan on Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor.
In truth, the Utes would have preferred a stronger opponent on Monday night, "but we couldn't get anyone else to play," said Majerus.
Perhaps it was a good thing. As center Walter Watts noted, "If we had played someone else, we probably would've got embarrassed."
After the game, Majerus had little good to say about the Utes' performance against SPU. Turnovers? "Byron (Wilson) had three turnovers," said Majerus. "I'm not happy with that. Tyrone (Tate) had four. That's totally unacceptable."
Free throws? "Byron goes 1 for 5, Tate 1-3."
But what really had Majerus bothered was rebounding. Utah and SPU both finished with 39 rebounds each. "Our (three centers) go goose eggs in the first half - not a single rebound," said Majerus. "They had 19 offensive rebounds."
The Utes struggled mostly in the second half, shooting 35 percent and committing 9 turnovers. During one seven-minute stretch, both teams scored just four points apiece.
About now, you're wondering if the Utes did anything right. "Well, obviously there were some good things in there if you win by 27 points," said Majerus.
What the Utes did best was play defense. They had much to do with their opponents' embarrassing shooting performance. The Falcons made just 14 of 54 field goal attempts - 26 percent - including 4 of 19 from three-point range. They scored 15 points in the second half, making 5 of 32 shots. Caio Silveira scored 16 points, hitting 6 of 11 shots, but his teammates provided little support. The starting guards combined to make 3 of 22 field goal attempts.
Several of the Utes had their bright moments. Wilson, who was suspended for Saturday's season opener for arriving 30 seconds late to a pre-game meeting, scored 12 points in the first 10 minutes of the game. He finished with 15, plus three blocked shots and one steal. Rydalch had 13 points, making 5 of 7 field goals.
Afeaki, a 6-foot-10 center out of Tonga via Snow College, made a nifty turnaround jumper from behind the board on the baseline, and later a behind-the-back pass to Rydalch for a score. He finished with 8 points, 6 rebounds and 5 fouls in 23 minutes.
Josh Grant, the team's best player, had 9 rebounds, but made just 4 of 10 field goal attempts and 11 points.
"We're light years away," said Majerus. But only one day away from their next game.