(File photo)AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The back-court duo of seasoned Senior guard Luka Drca and fabulous Freshmen guard Marshall Henderson was too much for Air Force Wednesday night. The two guards combined to score 29 points in the Utes' 54-43 win over the Falcons.
It has been normal this season for the Runnin' Utes (13- 14, 6-7 Mountain West) to have sluggish starts in their games, and Wednesday night wasn't an exception. Air Force (9-17, 1-12) plays a stringent zone defense that has proved difficult for Utah over the years and Falcon deflections and sloppy passes by Utah turned into nine first-half turnovers. The first half ended with an ugly 19-19 tie, but nothing could look more beautiful to Air Force, who loves low scoring grind-it-out style games.
"It takes us awhile to figure out that zone," Coach Jim Boylen said, "we made adjustments and came out small in the second half."
The small line-up proved to be the proper adjustment for the Utes who outscored the Falcons 35-24 in the second half. The Utes were able to slow the game down and take care of the ball, which allowed them to create better shots. Henderson came out strong and fast for Utah after the break, scoring their first five points of the second half. Following Henderson's five points Drca took his turn and scored the next five to put Utah up by six.
Going small caused Coach Boylen to sit his big men David Foster and Jason Washburn in the second half, something that he doesn't like to do.
"That's hard for me, I like having my centers in there," Boylen said.
Forwards Kim Tillie and Jay Watkins took over the big man duties in the second half. Tillie played his best game since coming back from an injury earlier in the season scoring six points and hustling to grab nine rebounds. Watkins was his energetic self, scoring 10 points and pulled down three offensive rebounds.
While Henderson and Drca played outstanding for Utah, Chris Hines, a red-shirt Freshman who has slowly and surely been working his way into Coach Boylen's rotation, came up big scoring eight points and nabbing four rebounds. Hines has been getting more minutes for the Utes as of late and he has been taking advantage. With Drca being a Senior there will be a gap in the back-court next season and if Hines continues to play the way he has Utah could have another great back-court duo of Henderson and Hines for seasons to come.
Utah shot an impressive 50 percent from the floor. The Runnin' Utes also found success from deep, knocking down 5-10 of their three-point attempts. On the flip side the Utes continue to play tenacious defense causing opponents to take shots with hands in their faces. The Falcons shot a miserable 2-17 from long distance and managed to connect on 42 percent of their shots from the floor.
The win Wednesday night put Utah in a deadlock tie for the fifth spot in the Mountain West Conference standings with Colorado State. The Utes will host Wyoming Saturday night at the Huntsman Center and BYU next Wednesday before they travel to Fort Collins to take on Colorado State in the regular season finale. The last three games on the schedule will provide the Utes with the opportunity, not only to improve their seeding in the upcoming MWC tournament, but also to end the regular season with a winning record. A winning record would provide the Utes with the opportunity to play in a post season tournament.