Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
PERTH, Australia - After 29 hours of travel over the previous two days, the new-look University of Utah men's basketball team finally had a chance to apply what it had learned during the 10 days of practice conducted prior to the team's trip to Australia. Despite foul trouble and having to adjust to a slightly different set of playing rules, the Runnin' Utes came away with a hard-fought, 97-96 win over the Perth Wildcats in the opening game of the team's foreign tour.
Stephen Weigh led the team with 32 points (including eight-of-12 from three-point range) and 9 rebounds. Playing in front of a large contingent of family and friends, Perth native Luke Nevill added 16 points and 8 rebounds. Nevill was introduced before the game to a chorus of cheers. After only putting up three points and two rebounds in the first half, Nevill came on strong down the stretch to help the team overcome a double-digit deficit.
Utah fell behind early, trailing by as many as 15 points in the first of four 12-minute quarters. The Utes pulled back within four with just more than four minutes remaining in the second quarter, but trailed by 14 points at halftime. Utah was down 16 early in the third quarter, before storming back with a 12-0 run.
The Runnin' Utes finally took the lead, 82-80, on a Stephen Weigh three-pointer at the 8:52 mark in the third quarter. It was back-and-forth from there on out. Former University of Detroit star Rashad Phillips knocked down two free throws for Perth with eight seconds remaining to put the Wildcats up 96-95 and set up an exciting finish. Utah senior guard Johnnie Bryant drove the length of the floor for a layup to put the Utes on top by one, 97-96, with only two seconds left to play. Phillips missed a desperation three-pointer for Perth as time expired.
Ute sophomore Kim Tillie added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Shaun Green finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, despite playing only 20 minutes due to foul trouble. Utah will face the Wildcats again Saturday night in Perth, before heading off to Sydney for the second leg of the trip.
Game Notes: - The Utes used only eight players, compared to the 10 who played for Perth. Sophomore guard Luka Drca made the trip with the team, but has not yet been cleared for contact, following off-season surgery to repair an injured shoulder.
- Utah was whistled for 34 fouls compared to 25 for Perth. Shaun Green was the only player to foul out of the game. FIBA rules allow for six fouls, compared to the five permitted in the NCAA.
- The Wildcats shot 45 free throws, while the Utes attempted 24. The free-throw disparity resulted in Perth outscoring Utah 30-15 from the line.
- FIBA rules also call for a 24-second shot clock. As a result, Utah had to adjust to a faster-paced game. However, the Utes did not commit a shot-clock violation.
- Perth shot .545 from the field in the first half, but the Ute defense held them to .375 in the second half.
- Perry Lakes Stadium was sold out for the game. A number of fans were turned away. Saturday night's game is also sold out and will be played at neighboring Arena Joondalup in Perth.
Quotes - Head Coach Jim Boylen
On his team's performance in the first game: "I really thought we went out there and competed tonight. I'm proud of how we battled back after falling behind. It was kind of a bend-but-don't-break situation. I was proud of Luke for the way he hung in there and fought because they were really physical with him. I was a little disappointed in the way we played on the defensive end in the first half. We just didn't bring the intensity that we need to have to be successful. I thought we were tentative from the start and our communication was not where it needed to be. Give the guys credit though. They did a better job in the second half. Offensively, I thought we had a lot of great looks in the first half. The shots just weren't falling early. One of the things I was most pleased with was that our conditioning was great. Luke gave us 40 minutes, which is something we really needed from him to win."
On Stephen Weigh's big night: "As a staff, we have high goals for Steve. I'm proud of the way he played, but he still needs to improve for us to be as good as we can be. Consistency will be the key."
On Luke's return home: "I was very happy with the way Luke competed tonight. I'm glad he had the chance to come home and play in front of his family. The arena was sold out tonight and I think that made it really special for him."
Looking forward to the next game against Perth: "Playing Perth again tomorrow night will be a good test for us. Last season, a big problem with the team was that they didn't know how to handle success. This will give me a chance to see how we respond to a win. First, though, we have to break down the game film as a staff and see what we can do better. I plan to have the team watch the film in the morning. Hopefully we will learn a lot from it. Our goal is to get better and this is the first step in the process."