Kevin Kreck, Associated Press
Air Force guard Evan Washington, left, and forward Grant Parkerclose in to defend Utah forward Kim Tillie.

AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Kim Tillie has sort of disappeared since undergoing knee surgery back on Jan. 2. Since then, he hasn't started a game for Utah and never played more than 17 minutes.

However, as he's gradually gotten more healthy he's becoming a factor for the Utes, and the senior from France turned out to be a big key to the Utes' 54-43 victory Wednesday night.

With Utah's 7-footers, David Foster and Jason Washburn, having difficulty guarding the smaller Falcon centers, Tillie played much of the game at the five spot. He ended up grabbing nine rebounds, while scoring six points in 25 minutes of action.

"Tillie was terrific … nine rebounds," said Utah coach Jim Boylen. "Kim's getting better and better. He's practicing better and it's showing. He's getting his legs back, and he's recovered. He's got his bounce back, and he's rebounding the ball."

Tillie also played good defense against AFA's leading scorer, Grant Parker, who finished with 11 points and three rebounds and came up with the Utes' only blocked shot of the game, swatting Michael Lyons' shot into the stands.

"We had trouble guarding them in the first half with their quickness, so coach switched up to a small lineup to guard them better," Tillie said. "I was in there at the five, and that's why I got all those rebounds."

Tillie acknowledges it's been tough being Utah's third or fourth reserve in the game after starting most of the past two seasons.

"It was a little frustrating at first," he said. "But coach trusts me more and more. When I play hard, coach keeps me in. When I do my job, which is to get rebounds, my minutes go up."

HINES HELPS: Another player who has seen his minutes go up lately is freshman guard Chris Hines. The 6-foot guard from Houston played a season-high 16 minutes and scored eight points, making both his shots, including a 3-pointer, and grabbed four rebounds.

Hines sparked the sluggish Utes in the first half with a 3-pointer from the right angle to give Utah its first lead of the night at 14-13. Then in the second half, he made a key play, driving to the hoop and getting fouled. His three-point play pushed the lead to seven at 37-30.

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"He's coming off the bench ready to play," said Boylen. "He can score the ball and has confidence offensively. He's a young developing player."

UTE NOTES:David Foster, who ranks No. 4 in the nation with 4.4 blocks per game, had no blocked shots for the first time all season and played just 10 minutes … The Utes held the Falcons to 41 percent shooting, but just 2-for-17 from 3-point range, 11.8 percent … Last year, the Utes won 57-36 here … Earlier this year, the Utes beat the Falcons 71-54 in Salt Lake … The Utes lead the all-time series with AFA 49-12.