SALT LAKE CITY — When Utah took a 20-point lead over Montana early in the second half Wednesday night, the Utes didn't relax. At least Ute coach Jim Boylen didn't.
He knew exactly what the Grizzlies did to Weber State in last year's Big Sky final, when they stormed back from a 20-point halftime deficit to take a one-point win and grab an NCAA berth.
"They have a history of doing that," Boylen said. "Give Montana credit, they fought and battled back."
The Grizzlies pulled within six points and gave the Utes a scare, but in the end Utah were able to hang on and take an 80-71 victory at the Huntsman Center.
"I'm proud of our team for hanging in there," Boylen said. "I always tell my team, 'if you can learn to play in the street without getting run over, you're going to be OK.' Tonight we played in the street a little bit and lost our momentum and bogged down a little bit."
Will Clyburn led the Ute scoring for the second straight game, scoring 21 points, while Josh Watkins had 20 and Jay Watkins 18.
Clyburn admitted the Utes got a bit complacent in the second half, saying, "We didn't play like we should with the lead. We kind of stalled. We should have stayed aggressive and kept going at the rim."
Boylen said he'd take the blame for that. "We've got to do a better job of keeping the pace where we want it," he said.
The Utes led 41-30 at halftime and increased their lead to 20 at 57-37 with 14:02 left after a three-point play by Jay Watkins.
The Grizzlies didn't play dead however and pulled within nine at 61-52 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Derek Selvig and Kareem Jamar. The margin got as close as six on a three-point play by Selvig with 7:52 left, but the Utes put the lead back to double digits as they hit eight of 10 free throws over the last seven minutes.
For the game, the Utes made 28 of 36 free throws, led by Clyburn's 9 of 11. That was a big difference in the game as the Grizzlies ended up 17 of 26 on the night.
In the first half, the Utes got a spark from JC transfer Antonio DiMaria, who scored seven points in the final four minutes as the Utes extended a two point lead to 11.
Will Cherry led Montana with 17 points, while Selving and Jamar scored 14 apiece. The Grizzlies' 6-foot-11 all-league center Brian Qvale was plagued by foul trouble and was held to 10 points.
GAME NOTES: Jason Washburn scored 10 points and had a career-high eight rebounds. ... With two blocked shots, Ute center David Foster moved ahead of Keith Van Horn onto the all-time blocked shots list with 127. ... Montana guard Shawn Stockton, who is the nephew of former Utah Jazz guard John Stockton, went scoreless in seven minutes. ... The Grizzlies outrebounded the Utes 36-34.