Exam week is over for the University of Utah basketball team. It's time for report cards. The Utes to a man passed their exams and their classes, according to Head Master/Coach Rick Majerus. They skipped some of their hoop practices during the week, but it didn't matter. They passed their test on the court, as well - sort of a pop quiz - by routing Pacific University 71-54 Saturday night in the Huntsman Center.
Josh Grant scored 25 points, Paul Afeaki had 11, and nine of their teammates chipped in a few points of their own for good measure, as the Utes claimed their seventh victory of the season in eight games.Saturday's game was never close, and was never expected to be. After all, Pacific, 6-1, is an NAIA team. By halftime, the Utes owned a 38-16 lead. They were leading by 26 points when Majerus called for subs off the far end of his bench to finish the last four minutes of the game.
It was a dull contest, but afterward Majerus was making no apologies for it. Or was he?
"Till the day I die or they fire me, at the end of exam week we'll schedule teams we have the best chance of beating," he said. "If they want me to play tough teams at the end of exam week, then I'll coach somewhere else." Later, he continued, "I make no apologies for playing this team. And the administration is behind me."
He doth protest too much. No one has ever second-guessed Majerus' decision to schedule these games - even if he has played three non-Division 1 teams already this season - but he still seems compelled to defend them rigorously.
Majerus reasons that since he gives his players several days off to take finals, they shouldn't have to worry about facing a tough opponent at the end of the week. Since playing Cal-Irvine last Saturday, the Utes didn't resume practice in earnest until Thursday.
The time off made no difference in Saturday's game. The Utes built a 22-point first-half lead thanks to the Boxers' poor shooting (5 of 21 from the field) and because they were able to utilize their superior height. The Utes scored 10 of their 15 field goals from inside of 10 feet; the rest came from three-point range.
Grant seemed able to score at will. He made 9 of 16 shots, grabbed seven rebounds, and scored 25 points, all in 22 minutes of play.
"Their shots wouldn't fall," said forward M'Kay McGrath. "And they are a small team. Plus, Josh played great.""It was exactly what I thought it would be," said Majerus.
Aside from providing his team with a little exercise, Majerus used the game as a chance to experiment. "We wanted to see what Anthony Williams could do, and play our two bigs (center Walter Watts and Afeaki) together," he said.
Williams, a point guard who has been slow to fit into the Ute scheme since transferring from College of Southern Idaho last fall, produced six points, two assists, one steal and no turnovers in 18 minutes.
As for the Watts-Afeaki pairing, "We're going to give that a look as the year goes on," said Majerus.
Afeaki delivered his usual repertoire of dunks Saturday and converted a layup off a quick alley-oop pass from guard Jimmy Soto.
Watts, who was covered heavily inside, scored just four points (and took just four shots), but had eight rebounds.
Byron Wilson, a starting guard for Utah, didn't play in the first half because of a sprained ankle. He played six minutes in the second half.
Craig Rydalch, another regular, also saw limited duty (11 minutes) because of a concussion he suffered Thursday. Both are expected to play next week, when the Utes meet Weber State on Monday, Morehead State on Wednesday and Wichita State on Saturday.
"We've got three tough games coming up," said Majerus. And one easy game behind them.