After losing four games in a row, the Utah basketball team needed a win in the worst way and the perfect remedy was the worst team in the Mountain West Conference, which paid a visit to the Huntsman Center Tuesday night.
The Utes jumped out to a 23-point lead in the first half and then coasted to an 82-61 victory over a depleted Colorado State team that hasn't won a game since December.
With the victory, the Utes assured themselves of a winning season, improving to 16-12 and to 7-8 in MWC play.
The Utes had all kinds of impressive numbers in their final home game of the season.
Shaun Green had his highest point total of he season, scoring 20 points, and also led the Utes in rebounds with 9. Luke Nevill scored 19 points in 20 minutes, while Johnnie Bryant scored 14 points in his final home game as a senior and Kim Tillie scored 13 points. Luka Drca handed out 10 assists for the second time this year and senior Chris Grant went out in style, sinking his only two field goal tries and scoring 5 points in 6 minutes.
"Obviously we caught a team that is injury-riddled and young," said Utah coach Jim Boylen. "We had 23 assists in 32 baskets, outrebounded them by 17. Our defensive goal was 38 percent and we held them to 38.6. To me, that's how you win ... defense, rebounding and sharing the ball."
The Rams, who lost their 16th straight and dropped to 0-15 in MWC play and 6-22 overall, only have two players on the team with any Division I experience, 7-footers Stuart Creason and Ronnie Aguilar. And guess what both players were out with foot injuries and unable to play Tuesday night.
That left the Rams with a starting lineup featuring four guards and 6-foot-6 freshman forward Andre McFarland.
The Utes took advantage early and led 34-11 late in the first half before the Rams sank three 3-pointers within a minute and pulled within 39-23 at halftime.
Give the scrappy Rams credit, they never gave up and kept the score close enough that Boylen couldn't put in his seldom-used seniors, Grant and Sayre Brennan, until the final three minutes.
The Utes did a nice job of containing Marcus Walker, who led the MWC in scoring coming into the game with an 18-point average. In the first half, Walker managed just two points on 1-of-3 shooting and finished the night with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
"Lawrence Borha did a heck of a job on Walker," said Boylen.
"He's done a great job on the other team's leading scorer all year."
Grant had played three minutes in the first half and got in for the final three minutes. He sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key and then added a drive to the basket in the final minute.
McFarland led the Rams with 15 points, while Willis Gardner had 11 and Walker 10.The Utes head back out on the road for their final regular-season game Saturday afternoon at UNLV, which lost to New Mexico Tuesday night. Then the Utes will head back to Las Vegas for the Mountain West Conference tournament the following week.
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