It's been said all year that the University of Utah basketball team has great depth. And that was never more evident than Saturday night when the Utes dug deep into their bench and came up with a genuine hero in Jon Hansen.
Hansen, who had played only 33 minutes all season, played a key role Saturday night as the Utes won a hard-fought victory over in-state rival Utah State 75-64 at the Huntsman Center.It was Hansen who helped put the clamps on Aggie star Reid Newey down the stretch and then came up with eight of the Utes' 11 points in the final two and a half minutes when the game was still on the line.
The victory improved the Utes' record to 3-5, while the Aggies fell to 1-2 on the season. Neither team plays again until Thursday, when the two rivals meet again in Logan.
Hansen, a 6-4 junior from Redlands, Calif., had only played in three of Utah's seven games prior to Saturday night and was generally regarded as the 10th or 11th man on the squad. But he was called on with 12:38 left in the game, and never came out again.
"When I go in, I go in with the attitude that I'll work hard and do my best because if I don't do the job there's a lot of other guys who can come in and play," said Hansen. "The coach has shown a lot of confidence in me when he puts me in. It's what you do when you're in there that counts."
The Utes, who led most of the game, were holding a tenuous 64-61 lead when Hansen took the ball, drove down the right side, stopped and sank a 10-foot jumper with 2:36 left.
Newey missed a three-pointer, and then Utah's Jimmy Madison and USU's Albert Chappell both missed foul shots. Then Mark Lenoir, who had his best game as a Ute with 16 points, got a nice feed from Mitch Smith as he drove the middle and turned it into a three-point play.
Newey countered at the other end with a three-point play off a drive. But after Lenoir missed a dunk for Utah, Newey couldn't connect on a long-range 3-pointer and Hansen took the carom and went all the way for a layup to make it 71-64 with 57 seconds left.
The Aggies kept firing up 3-pointers without any luck, and Hansen added four more points in the last 24 seconds, and that was it.
"That was a hard game tonight. The key was our defense," said Ute Coach Lynn Archibald. "Hansen did a fantastic job on Newey and made some key plays on offense. Mark Lenoir did a nice job running the team and playing defense on Newey."
It was a frustrating night for the Aggies and Coach Kohn Smith. The Aggies shot a miserable 29.8 percent from the field and just 13 percent from three-point range.
Newey had a horrendous night - 3 of 16 from the field and 1 of 9 from 3-point range - as he was hounded by Lenoir and Hansen.
Afterward, Smith put much of the blame on Newey's off-night and on the officiating.
"Reid Newey just didn't shoot it well tonight," said Smith. "It's a three-point game and Newey's got a wide-open shot and he misses it. If he hits that shot, the game could have been different."
Newey, who had a game-high 18 points, thanks to 11 free throws, missed four 3-pointers in the final three minutes of the game.
Smith was also upset with the officiating crew that happened to consist of three Western Athletic Conference officials. Throughout the game he was yelling "That's unfair," when he thought the Utes got away with overly physical play.
"They play a very physical game for sure, and it's pretty tough when you have three WAC officials," said Smith. "We'll have to make sure when they come up to Logan that we have three Big West officials."
The final stats didn't back up Smith's claim of "unfairness." The Aggies shot 11 more free throws in the game as the Utes were called for 27 fouls to 23 for USU.
While Smith said the officiating was "a factor," he also said, "The game was lost in the first half when we shot 24 percent. You just can't play basketball like that."
Utah took a 33-25 halftime lead after a sloppy first half by both teams as both teams had 10 turnovers. The Utes had to play the last 15 minutes without Smith, who picked up three quick fouls.
The Aggies went more than 10 minutes without a field goal thanks to several turnovers, some tough defense by the Utes and some poor shooting. While the Aggies shot only 24 percent the first half, Utah wasn't much better at 37 percent.
What the Aggies could have used all game was USU senior Mike Child, who, after getting the lucky sticker in his program, sank a halfcourt shot at halftime worth $10,000 ($5,000 to him, $5,000 to the Ute Crimson Club).
The Ags led early at 7-2, but Utah took the lead for good 14-13. The lead got as high as 11 at 27-16, but the Utes couldn't break away when they had the chance. The Aggies stayed in the game thanks to foul shooting.
In the second half, the Utes looked ready to break away when a Bill Perkins three-pointer made it 42-30, but they found the Aggies tougher to shake than a bad cold.
USU quickly turned it into a 5-point game at 44-39 and then were never down by more than eight until the final few seconds.
When Danny Conway put in a rejected shot of Gilbert Pete's (by Smith), and was fouled, it was a two-point game at 60-58 with 6:27 left.
Smith made consecutive baskets for Utah, but three free throws, two by Newey and one by Chappell made it 64-61 with 3:49 left.
Lenoir and Madison led the Ute scoring with 16, while Smith had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Utes won the rebounding battle 49-36.