Utah Beats UTEP 60-54

Utah Beats UTEP 60-54

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- With a deafening crowd against it, Utah escaped with a 60-54 first-round victory over UTEP in the NCAA tournament Thursday thanks to a brilliant bit of defense by Tim Drisdom and a critical rebound from an exhausted Andrew Bogut.

With Utah leading 56-54, UTEP's lightning-fast point guard Filiberto Rivera drove the lane. Drisdom stripped the ball away, then was fouled by Rivera. The Utah junior's two free throws made it 58-54 with 15.4 seconds to play.

Jason Williams tried to score inside, but Bogut got a piece of the ball, then saved the rebound as he crashed to the floor. Marc Jackson's two free throws with 5.6 seconds to go sealed a victory that left the Utes 6-0 in NCAA tournament games at McKale Center.

Utah (28-5) has won 23 of its last 25.

Bogut, who played all 40 minutes, had 24 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots, but the Australian 7-footer, who could be the first player taken in this year's NBA draft if he turns pro as expected, was just 2-for-4 shooting in the second half and made only 4-of-10 free throws. Bryant Markson was the only other Ute in double figures with 10 points.

Omar Thomas, one of the great stories of the tournament after overcoming a childhood in which his father and two brothers were imprisoned for murder, scored 24 in his final collegiate game. Rivera added 11 points.

The sixth-seeded Utes play Oklahoma on Saturday in the second round of the Austin Regional. The Sooners beat Niagara 84-67 in the first Tucson game Thursday.

McKale Center was packed and rocking, mostly with orange-clad Miners fans who made the 41/2-hour drive from El Paso to watch their team go for its first NCAA tournament victory since 1992.

The 11th-seeded Miners (27-8) dug out of a 13-point second-half deficit to tie it three times but never could take the lead, despite several opportunities.

Marc Jackson's 15-foot jumper rattled in to put Utah ahead 56-54 with 39.5 seconds to play.

Bogut was magnificent in the first half with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting, including 2-of-3 3-pointers, but UTEP's aggressive defense shut him down for most of the second half, holding him scoreless for nearly 12 minutes.

Markson and Richard Chaney sank consecutive 3s to give Utah its biggest lead, 44-31, with 14:35 to play.

That's when the Miners, with the crowd roaring its support, revved up their defense. Utah committed four turnovers in a row and UTEP outscored the Utes 15-2 to tie it at 46 on Giovanni St. Amant's steal and layup with 7:24 remaining. UTEP tied it twice more, the last time at 54 on Thomas' basket around an obviously tired Bogut with 1:10 to play.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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