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December 6, 2012

Utes come alive in remembrance of Majerus




On an emotional night where Utah paid tribute to former Ute coach and legend Rick Majerus in a pre-game ceremony, no one knew what to expect out of the Utes Wednesday night against a formidable opponent in Boise State. Almost certainly, no one in the Huntsman Center expected the Utes to lay a 76-55 beating on the Broncos.

Terms like 'former coach' and even 'legend' seem to fall short in describing what Majerus meant to the University of Utah basketball program, as he was truly the architect of the modern day program that grew to be the 12th-winning-est baskteball program in NCAA history.

While the current Utes were too young to have known of Majerus, they certainly became instantly aware of him from the moment each of them set foot on campus.

"I never got the pleasure of meeting Coach Majerus, but I know a lot of his former players, and when they talk about him, it's in such high regard. It's with such respect, and through that, I developed my own respect for him," explained senior center Jason Washburn. "Like I said, I didn't get to meet him, but it still hurt a little bit, because he means so much to this place."

For a team with no current players on roster to have played under the Ute great, the sentiment they displayed on the court, and in post-game comments was surprising, and yet, was a fitting way to honor him, much more-so than the pre-game video and remarks.

In some inexplicable way, Majerus, in his passing, may have sparked yet another new beginning for Utah basketball, according to head coach Larry Krystkowiak.

"You never want to see anyone pass, but things happen for a reason. I think it's an inspiration and a motivator for all of us," said Krystkowiak on Majerus. "There's just no doubt that he was a big part of the evening, and that we were able to get a win."

With the emotion of the night in mind, Utah came out guns blazing Wednesday night. The Utes were also served up some motivation by hosting a high-profile opponent in Boise State, who came to Salt Lake City at 6-1 and on the fringe of that Top 25. Boise State's sole loss was a four point contest on the road at Michigan State.

While everything seemingly went Utah's way, Boise State conversely looked nothing like that team that knocked off Creighton at home, and came close in East Lansing.

Looking at the stats, Boise State shot 40.4 percent, shy of their season average 47.7 percent coming in to Wednesday night's game. While it was an off night for the Broncos, it wasn't so far off that it should have netted a 21 point loss.

Whatever the case, Larry Krystkowiak's team seemingly grabbed every loose ball, won every scrum and nearly seven out of every ten shots fells on a night where the Utes' performance was indeed, almost inexplicable.

"It's been a big week for us. We've had three of the best sessions we've had in Sunday, Monday and Tuesday practices," offered Krystkowiak. "We talked about it before the game. There's no doubt that Coach [Majerus] is in the building, and our guys just played really inspired."

Emotion, and maybe even pride for the name across the front of the jersey played into the game, but the Utes executed on the court, providing giddy Ute fans a glimpse of what could be.

Defensively, the Utes have begun to develop a tough, gritty identity but had not sustained it throughout a 40 minute contest in its previous seven games. Flashes of a consistently good defensive team have emerged from time to time and on a couple of occasions, throughout most of a game. Wednesday night changed that.

"Our guys laid it on the line for 40 minutes. We didn't have a minute where we weren't just playing as hard as we could," Krystkowiak remarked.

The impressive energy on defense turned out to be the spark the Utes needed on the offensive side of the ball.
"I thought that intensity-it's funny how that works in basketball. When you take that defensive intensity the rim on the other end opens up," Krystkowiak said. "I thought we were really good offensively. We moved the ball-20 assists on 27 field goals and short of the turnovers, it was a special night for us."

Three Utes scored in double figures, as senior guard Jarred DuBois led all scorers, and the team for a fourth time this season with 18 points. Senior center Jason Washburn has exploded in the Utes' last two games, playing with the energy and emotion most had come to expect of him throughout his career as a Ute. Washburn added 13 points on 6-6 shooting, and pulled down six rebounds. Defensively, he was a force in the paint, blocking more than the one shot he was officially credited with on the night.

Quietly, freshman forward Jordan Loveridge put together another double-digit scoring performance Wednesday, with 11 to go with five rebounds, a number that is normally higher for him.

Perhaps Loveridge's rebound numbers were lower because of the efforts of redshirt junior point guard Glen Dean who had a game-high nine rebounds on the night, as well as eight points and six assists on another under-the-radar, key performance.

All in all, the victory was a team victory as all but two Utes scored in the victory and/or played significant roles on defense, scrapping for loose balls, taking charges and keeping possession; none of which can be quantified on the stat sheets. The leadership and defense of Cedric Martin continues to be a significant factor in any Ute success, though he remains solidly under the radar this season.

Of all the many positives, this may be the most significant for a team who talks about heart and want-to. The Utes have not been impressive in many of those types of categories, at least consistently throughout their short season.

The Utes improved to 6-2 on the season, and will enjoy their win for a short period before hitting practice in preparation for their biggest test of the season Saturday at BYU.

Krystkowiak was happy for and pleased with his team, but cautioned placing too much emphasis on this singular win, and spoke for a good portion of his post-game interview about tempered expectations.

"You're never as good as, or as bad as you think you are," he reminded.

The Utes will need to take that to heart as they head to BYU, given their 100+ point offensive performance and subsequent face-plant in the next game, a loss to Sacramento State.



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