FORT COLLINS Although he has started all but four games this year, Utah's Carlon Brown has gradually seen his minutes decline to where he's barely playing a third of the time in conference games.
With Luka Drca back home because of a league-imposed suspension, the freshman forward made the most of his extra time Saturday night to help lead a 67-52 Ute victory over Colorado State.
Brown finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocks all career highs to pace the Utes to an important victory following a home loss to Wyoming three days earlier.
Ute coach Jim Boylen couldn't have been more happy with Brown's game, which he said was his best of the year.
"I said before the game to my assistants, somebody's going to have to step up for us to beat this team," Boylen said. "It was Carlon and I'm proud of him."
Brown had been averaging just 13 minutes per game in MWC play as Drca had taken most of his minutes and played most of the second halves. However Drca was back in Salt Lake because of a one-game suspension for an elbow last week against TCU.
"Coach said, 'be ready, Luka's out we're going to need you to pass, create and score when you can and help the team win,'" Brown said. "We knew they were going to key on Johnnie and double-team Luke, and I was open. I did my job and hit some layups, and we got it going in the first half. It just kind of happened."
Even though Brown became the seventh Ute to lead his team in scoring this year, that isn't what impressed Boylen.
"Everybody's going to look at the points but it was his defense and his rebounding," Boylen said. "He was active and athletic two blocks, no turnovers, 16 points, seven rebounds. He's just a freshman, he's learning, but that's who we envisioned he'd be."
Brown has been the Ute to take the first shot in the last three games, and he did it again Wednesday, making a 15-foot jumper and a layup.
Before long the Utes led 15-2 as reserve Kim Tillie sparked a 10-point run with a pair of baskets sandwiched around 3-pointers by Lawrence Borha and Johnnie Bryant.
Bryant, who was an abysmal 2 for 15 against Wyoming Wednesday, hit all three 3-point tries in the opening half and finished with 13 points on the night. Tyler Kepkay, who scored 11 points and had 4 assists and 4 rebounds, felt the Utes' early running game got them going.
"Tonight we came out flying, and we pretty much won the game in the beginning," he said. "It was a big win, especially because it was on the road and a conference game."
By halftime the Utes led by 20 at 33-13, but of course they couldn't stand success and let the Rams creep back into the game.
The Utes started the second half 2-for-11 from the field and let the Rams cut the lead to 11 at 39-28 with 10:35 left.
However, Kepkay hit a big 3-pointer from the right corner and Brown added a layup and the Utes pushed the lead back to 20 before settling for the 15-point win.
"I'm happy with the way my team responded after a tough home loss without Luka Drca who is a creator and who makes plays for us," Boylen said. "Our defense was good again and the first half defense set the tone for the game."
The Rams were led by MWC leading scorer Marcus Walker, who scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting and was the only player in double figures.
"I was embarrassed," said Colorado State Tim Miles. "I want to see a team that executes and plays together, and I didn't see either of those things tonight."
The Utes play a home game against UNLV Wednesday night before heading back on the road for a game at Air Force Saturday afternoon.
GAME NOTES: The coaches for both teams wore sneakers as part of the Coaches Vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers awareness weekend ... Brown hit his first 3-pointer of the year in the first half after missing his only other attempt earlier in the season ... Nevill was just 1-for-6 from the field against the smaller Rams and finished with 8 points ... After shooting 26 percent from the field in the first half, the Rams improved to 40.8 percent for the game but were just 16.7 percent from 3-point range (3 of 18) ... Utah now leads the all-time series with CSU 97-42 ... The Utes and Rams play in Salt Lake on March 4.