The Utah men's basketball team (1-0) will look to win its second straight home contest to open the 2010-11 season Wednesday as it hosts Montana (0-1). Tip-off at the Jon M. Huntsman Center is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Montana stumbled on the road in its season-opener, dropping an 81-66 contest at Nevada. The Grizzlies out-rebounded Nevada 40-29, but shot just 38.6% from the field (22-of-57), while allowing the Wolf Pack to shoot at a 50.0% clip (25-of-50). Brian Qvale provided nearly one third of Montana's offense, racking up a game-high 20 points on 7-of-13 from the field and 6-of-6 from the free throw line. Qvale also chipped in eight rebounds, while the Grizzlies were led by Derek Selvig's game-high 11 boards.
The Utes opened their 2010-2011 season in impressive fashion with a 72-48 win over Grand Canyon. Will Clyburn had a nice Utah debut with a team high 14 points and 8 rebounds. Sophomore center Jason Washburn kicked in 12 points and 5 rebounds while JC transfer point guard Jiggy Watkins added 11 points and 6 assists.
The Utes looked relaxed and efficient, far from the underachieving team we saw last year. With four new starters, the team had a different feel to them and looked poised and confident.
The speed and distribution abilities of Jiggy Watkins look like they'll make a huge difference this year as the Utes look to bounce back. Will Clyburn is a versatile player who was very impressive in the opener. The center duo of Jason Washburn and David Foster was very productive on both ends and should be a force to reckon with throughout the year.
Utah will be without freshman starter J.J. O'Brien who is out 4 to 6 weeks with a broken foot. Look for Jace Tavita to likely take his place in the starting lineup.
Montana kicked off their season with an 81-66 loss to a decent Nevada team in Reno. The Grizzlies held a two point lead at the half before succumbing in the second half. Center David Qvale was impressive with 20 points and 8 rebounds, but no one else reached double digits in the scoring column.
Montana is going to miss graduated senior Anthony Johnson, who led them to the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season. Johnson scored a Big Sky Conference Tournament record 42 points as the Grizzlies erased a 22 point deficit, sending them to their first NCAA tournament in four years. They nearly pulled off a huge first round upset before succumbing to 3 seed New Mexico in a game that came down to the final minute. Sophomore guard Will Cherry will be asked to pick up much of the scoring slack with the departure of Johnson. He's an athletic kid who plays bigger than his 6'1" frame. If the Grizzlies are going to be able to stay with the Utes, they'll need Cherry to come up with a solid game.
The home court of advantage and the athleticism of Utah is going to be too much for Montana. David Qvale isn't going to put up the 20 and 8 he had in the opener. David Foster is likely to get more minutes than he had against Grand Canyon to shut down Qvale and should be able to keep him somewhat under wraps. The loss of J.J. O'Brien will keep this close than it should be, but the Utes will jump out early and hang on to a steady five to ten point lead before hanging on at the end.
Utah 76 Montana 68