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November 18, 2010Utah improved to 2-0 after an 82-69 victory over the Montana Grizzlies holding on to an early lead sparked primarily by defense. Junior Will Clyburn led the way again with 21 points, but it was the defensive spark provided by Jay Waktins which, in turn, opened things up for him offensively. Watkins finished with 18 points and hauled in 5 rebounds.
Most of the first half was a game of cat and mouse with Montana constantly playing catch up as the Utes continued to build leads, only to lose them. As the Utes began to pull away mid-way through the first half, Jay Watkins sparked a crucial run, scoring five points in a three minute period, collecting an offensive rebound and applying pressure defensively causing rushed shots.
Although the statistics don't reflect it, the Utes made all the necessary hustle plays to gut the victory out. Jace Tavita, Jay Watkins and Will Clyburn all provided a defensive spark at various times, making for easy transition.
To close out the first half, Utah displayed good defensive energy, shutting down the Grizzlies and building an 11 point lead in the process. Not letting up, the Utes also utilized full court pressure to discourage any spurt by an aggressive Montana team who has built a reputation for hanging around when opponents fail to put them away.
The second half seemed as though it was a different story as Utah continued to build their lead at one point, up to 20 points. However, just when it appeared the Utes had put the game away, the team went cold, scoring only four points over the course of four minutes right around the midway point of the half.
"That's a good team we played. Give Montana credit. They battled back, they fought. They have a history of doing that," said head coach Jim Boylen. "We kind of lost our momentum, lost our push up the floor for a little bit. We bogged down a little bit. I'll take responsibility for that. We've got to do a better job of keeping the pace where we want it."
The Utes showed flashes of defensive brilliance Wednesday, but could not keep up the momentum. An improved free throw shooting night (77.8%) helped them avoid a total letdown, as well as hitting 4-10 from behind the arc. Utah also cut down on turnovers, committing 12. On the flip side, the Utes swiped seven steals from Montana, but were outrebounded 36-34 by the Grizzlies.
A point of emphasis for Utah is forcing trips to the free throw line, and the team's expectation is to attempt no fewer than 25 per game. The Utes attempted 36 free throws on the night, converting 28.
Though the game wasn't a consistent effort overall, the Utes had four different players who scored in double figures and showed promising signs that the team is improving from game to game. In addition to Clyburn's 21, Jay Watkins poured in 18, Josh Watkins contributed 20 and Jason Washburn added 10 points, as well as a career-high eight boards.
With freshman starter J.J. O'Brien out four-to-six weeks with a fractured foot, the Utes needed JUCO transfer Antonio DiMaria to step up and play a role. DiMaria played just eight minutes against Grand Canyon, pulling down one rebound, missing one shot, committing one personal foul and one turnover. In Wednesday's victory, DiMaria finished with seven points; three rebounds and one steal but also provided defensive sparks and cleaning up on the hustle plays at crucial times in the game.
"I was just a little more comfortable coming into tonight's game. I knew J.J. [O'Brien] was out with an injury, so I knew I had to come in and support the team and play my role well. I knew I had to stay mentally focused, and I tried to do that," said DiMaria.
Although the Utes' performance wasn't always pretty, the team feels good about their overall effort, the victory and knowing what they need to improve upon going into next week. Specifically, the Utes learned that going against a smaller lineup gives them some matchup difficulties, as the Grizzlies made that adjustment in the second half, partially contributing to their chipping away at the Utes' lead, which dwindled down to just six at one point late in the game.
"I'm proud of our team for hanging in there. I always tell my guys if you can learn to play in the street without getting run over, you're going to be ok," said Boylen. "I thought we played in the street a little bit. Overall, I think it's a step in the right direction."