Utah basketball: Utes get lopsided win over Frogs

Coach gets positive message from players before MWC opener.
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Coach Jim Boylen received text messages from Luka Drca and Carlon Brown before Utah's Mountain West Conference opener against TCU.

Drca and Brown assured Boylen that the Utes were ready to give a top effort against the Horned Frogs on Saturday afternoon at the Huntsman Center.

Maybe the two Utah veterans are psychic.

Perhaps they simply have a good feel for their team.

Whatever the reason, Drca and Brown accurately predicted how the Utes would play during their 65-45 victory over the Horned Frogs.

Utah held TCU to a season-low point-total and season-low shooting (.308).

Offensively, Drca scored 14 points and Brown added 11 as the Utes improved to 8-7 overall with their third straight.

What about those text messages?

Boylen smiled: "[They] said, 'We're going to get this one, coach. We're going to be ready. Whatever it takes.' When your guys start buying in like that, it's fun."

Heading into a stretch of games against Mountain West contenders New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State, Utah played its best defense of the year against TCU.

The Frogs buried their first two shots, but needed another nine minutes to make their next two field goals.

The Utes took a 9-8 lead with 14:27 left in the first half and never trailed again.

"I've said all along we have to do it with defense," Boylen said. "I really feel this team has made strides defensively. We've worked and worked and worked and we're starting to carry it to the floor."

Junior forward Jay Watkins credited the coaching staff for blue-printing the Utes' defense, which limited TCU to 13 points in the first 15 minutes of the game and eight points in the opening eight minutes of the second half.

"Proper preparation prevents poor performance," Watkins said. "You have to give it up to the coaches. ... They got us ready. We knew what they were doing and got stops."

Heading into the game, TCU's top three scorers were Zvonko Buljan (14.6), Ronnie Moss (14.5) and Edvinas Ruzgas (13.1).

Against Utah, those three scored a total of 17 points on 5-for-24 shooting.

"The game plan was simple," said sophomore guard Jace Tavita. "Just play hard and play our defense. Be in our gaps. Contest shots. Don't let them go middle. And I think we did that."

TCU, which slipped to 8-8 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain West, made only four of its 16 three-point attempts, including 2-for-10 in the second half.

"That team feeds off threes," Boylen said. "[But] I thought we did a lot of guarding and they did a lot of dribbling. ... I thought we stayed home on their shooters."

The Horned Frogs didn't fare much better when they took the ball inside.

Utah blocked eight shots, including four by redshirt freshman Jason Washburn and two by seven-footer David Foster.

"Our 'fives' controlled the paint pretty well," Boylen said. "I think you saw what our size does. Ball pressure, with size, usually makes you a pretty good defensive team and that's what we are becoming."

Utah broke the game open with a 14-3 run early in the second half, which started when Tavita's lob pass accidently went into the basket for a three-pointer.

After building a 40-30 lead with 13:35 to play, Drca scored for the first time with a three-pointer. He had five more points during 10-0 run that gave the Utes a 59-36 lead with 6:36 remaining.

"I'm proud of this group," Boylen said. "We're getting better. We are starting to trust."



R IN SHORT » Luka Drca scores his 14 points during a nine-minute stretch of the second half and Utah opens the Mountain West Conference play with a 65-45 win over TCU.

KEY MOMENT » With Utah leading 29-27 early in the second half, Jace Tavita's lob pass turns into an unintentional three-pointer, sparking a 14-3 run.

KEY STAT » The Horned Frogs, who average 72 points a game, are held to a season-low 45 by the Utes. They make only four of their 16 three-point attempts.