Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Utah's Curtis Eatmon scores in this Dec. 28, 2006, game. Utah coach Jim Boylen said Eatmon's injury isn't why he was released.

Utah sophomore point guard Curtis Eatmon, who has not played all season because of a hip condition, has been given his release by coach Jim Boylen.

Eatmon, who played in all but one game last season, has not played this year and had surgery in Colorado two weeks ago to repair the pre-existing hip problem. However Boylen said the injury was not the reason for his release.

"I didn't feel it was fair to keep him for another two years on my roster when his opportunity would not be there in my mind," Boylen said. "Make no mistake, he is not being released because he's injured. He knew before the decision was made to have surgery that he would not be back at Utah."

Boylen praised Eatmon as a "terrific kid" and a "very good student" from a "very good family," but said he wouldn't have had much playing opportunity for the Utes. Boylen was able to see Eatmon play on the trip to Australia and in early workouts this season and didn't see him having a chance to play much over the next couple of years.

"He is in the process of looking for a place to go, and we will help him in any way we can," Boylen said.

Last year Eatmon started three of the 29 games he played and averaged 1.6 points and 1.1 assists in 11 minutes per game.

Boylen said Jonathan Downie, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound walk-on forward from Bountiful High, will get Eatmon's scholarship this semester.

WHY DIXIE?: The Utes should have a breather Wednesday night when Dixie State comes to the Huntsman Center for a 7 p.m. game.

Nothing against Dixie, but why are the Utes even playing a Division II school that comes into the game with a 3-8 record with losses to Metro State, Fort Lewis and Westminster?

Boylen explained that the Utes needed a game during their "bye" week in Mountain West Conference play and thought they had an agreement with Saint Mary's of the West Coast Conference.

However Saint Mary's, which has been ranked in the Top 25 this year, took a better deal from Texas, where it recently played a game.

When the Saint Mary's game fell through, the Utes were left scrambling and found a game against Dixie.

"It's a game where you take pride in your work, you keep trying to get better and you represent your team at home," Boylen said.

"We're excited about it. They have 10 Utah kids and I guarantee we're going to be ready to play."

RECRUITS UPDATE: Boylen said Monday he is happy with how his five recruits for next year are doing so far this season. He passed out a sheet to the media with updated stats for each of the five players — Chris Hines, Jace Tavita, Jordan Cyphers, Josh Sharp and Jason Washburn — and commented on each one.

"We want to become a winning program built on putting winning first," Boylen said. "The thing I'm encouraged about is that this group is 55-7 (won-loss records) combined. To me that's real exciting stuff."

TILLIE UPDATE: Ute reserve forward Kim Tillie should be back in action before the end of the month and could be playing as early as next week.

Boylen said Monday that Tillie, who has a stress fracture of his leg, is "out of the boot" and walking without pain. He said he'll be x-rayed again on Thursday.

The Ute coach said when the stress fracture was discovered, it was already starting to heal. So Tillie was actually playing with a "healing stress fracture," according to the coach.

"We have not picked a date," Boylen said. "Ideally we'd like to have him by San Diego State (Jan. 16th), but I don't know."

FINISHING STRONG: Strong finishes have become a pattern in a lot of Ute wins this year, which coach Jim Boylen credits to the Utes' superior conditioning.

In fact over the past five home games, since losing to Santa Clara, the Utes have outscored their opponents by an average of 24-11 during the final 10 minutes of each game.

Against UC Irvine when the Utes overcame a 13-point deficit, the margin was 33-10. Against Utah State it was 19-9. In the win over Missouri State, it was just a five-point edge, 22-17, but it was 27-14 against Idaho State and 20-5 in Saturday's win over Air Force.

The strong finishes are a big reason why the Utes are 9-4 this year, compared to 5-8 last year when the Utes lost several games in the closing minutes.