Well it wasn't pretty, but the 2011-12 Runnin' Utes passed their first test of the season on Monday night beating San Diego Christian 58-55.
For much of the first half it seemed like Utah was in trouble. Outside of point guard Jiggy Watkins Utah had no scoring threats and was limited in their offensive opportunities. But in the second half the Utes found their aggression, they found their offense, they (finally) found their 6'10" center and they pulled away from the Eagles to go 1-0 on this very young season.
Jiggy was the man for the Utes from start to finish. His determination to score was exactly what the Utes needed because for much of the game the other players were very hesitant to shoot and gave up way too many offensive opportunities. Jiggy had 14 points at the half and finished the game with a team-high 23. Watkins did a great job of picking his spots and taking what the defense gave him, he drove when there was an open lane and he passed when the defense collapsed on him. He finished with 4 turnovers but had 5 assists and overall he did a good job of leading an offense that without him went absolutely nowhere.
Center Jared Washburn had a great game as well. Washburn was the second leading scorer finishing with 12 points, 8 of which came in the second half. Washburn, like most of the team, came alive in the second period both offensively and defensively. His defensive presense turned the tide and helped Utah regain a lead and stretch it to the final whistle.
Washburn finished the game with a double-double pulling down 10 rebounds to go with his 12 points. Offensively Washburn shot 60% and played much better than he did all last season. He was aggresive at the rim and was noticeably patient with the ball in his hands.
The other standout of the night for the Utes was freshman Kareem Storey. Storey had 10 points on the night all coming from free throws but it wasn't his scoring alone that set him apart. Storey has great defensive skills and defends on the ball very well. He put great pressure on the ball-handler and never gave up on a play often forcing opponents to pick up their dribble or turn the ball over. Storey said in post-game that he and Jiggy guard each other every minute of every practice in order to make each other better. It looks to me like Watkins has done an excellent job of taking Storey under his wing and the play of the freshman, at least in the first two games, has reflected his hard work with the senior leader.
The season is still young, but don't expect a lot from this team and don't be surprised if the names listed above are the team leaders pretty consistently this year. After one game, and I understand it's just one game, it was quite clear they were the best three players on the team, and it wasn't even close.
If there is a bright spot it's that the team got better throughout the game. The second half was much better than the first in all aspects and you could tell the team and coaches made adjustments. Progress will be the most telling aspect of this team this year and it was nice to see progress already in just the first game.
What went right:
- Jiggy Watkins is clearly the catalyst on offense for this team. His 23 points were crucial as it was painfully clear early on nobody else on the team was going to step up and score.
- Storey is extremely active on both sides of the ball. He plays very smart ball for a freshman, especially on defense.
- Turnovers weren't as big of a problem as they were against Adams State, which is an improvement, but the team still needs to get a lot better in this area.
- The Utes scored 30 points in the paint
- Washburn has definitely grown from last year. He is a much better scorer, an aggressive rebounder, and he played smart all night.
What went wrong:
- If Jiggy isn't on this team I'm afraid to think about who scores. There is very little confident shooting going on from players not named Jiggy Watkins.
- Utah didn't do a good enough job taking advantage of Washburns size. This needs to be a point of emphasis.
- Utah gave up 14 points off turnovers
- Javon Dawson was awful tonight. His stat line was 0-1 from the floor, 1-3 from the line, 2 fouls and 2 turnovers. His only bright spot were his 5 rebounds.
- Excecution down the stretch was once again sketchy. Utah had the game in the bag with a minute left and let a 7 point lead dwindle to 2 before the horn sounded.
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