Utah pounded San Diego State in the first half and held off a furious rally to beat the Aztecs 68-62 here Saturday night.
The win puts the Utes at 13-1 for the season and, more importantly, 2-0 in the WAC.Utah Coach Rick Majerus is still not ready to boast about his team, however. Asked if the Utes were good, he said, "You tell me. We have glaring deficiencies. We have gaping holes. We gutted it out tonight."
Those holes weren't evident in the first half, as the Utes built a 35-18 lead. The Utes shot a respectable 46.7 percent for the half, while the Aztecs used their entire arsenal of airballs and rim-clangers to shoot 20 percent from the field. SDSU had five field goals, only one in the final 12 minutes.
Defensively, San Diego State tried several different looks, mainly in an effort to neutralize 6-foot-10 Josh Grant. SDSU Coach Jim Brandenburg even started 6-foot-7 freshman Courtie Miller over 6-10 Joe McNaull, and assigned the quicker Miller to follow Grant all over the court.
When Grant got five of Utah's first nine points despite Miller's defense, Brandenburg dumped that experiment in favor of a man-to-man scheme. The Aztecs took the lead briefly at 11-9, and then Utah ran off six straight points. So Brandenburg called timeout, switched to a zone defense, and the Utes scored seven straight points.
Still, it wasn't defense that made the difference in the first half - it was all those San Diego State bricks.
The Aztecs came out a changed team in the second period, after a halftime lecture that Brandenburg termed "emotional."
"We talked it over and decided we'd better start playing," Brandenburg said. The coachdidn't mention if scholarship revocations were discussed, but the Aztecs came out of the locker room rebounding better, playing defense better, and shooting better.
With three guards on the floor, getting fast-break layups off missed Utah shots, the Aztecs outscored the Utes 18-6 to cut the lead to seven. Majerus responded by playing point guards Tyrone Tate and Jimmy Soto at the same time, but Utah was suddenly having trouble shooting. The Utes shot 33 percent in the second half and finished at 40 percent for the game.
Majerus said his team was hurt by the absence of starting guard Byron Wilson, out with a bruised rear end suffered in the Hawaii game. Craig Rydalch started as Wilson sat out, figuratively speaking.
"We couldn't match three guards with them," Majerus said. "With Byron out, we're not playing with all our bullets in the gun."
Twice Utah built the lead back to double digits, but the Aztecs refused to fold.
SDSU got to within three at one point, and with 36 seconds left the Utah lead was four, but Josh Grant hit two free throws and Soto added two more 17 seconds later to make it 68-60. The Aztecs added a courtesy layup, but it was over.
Utah's leading scorer was Grant, with 13. Watts added 11 and 12 rebounds.
SDSU had three players in double figures: Marty Dow with 14; Miller, 12; and James Lewis, 10.
Utah next plays Thursday against New Mexico in the Huntsman Center.