Utah had plenty of motivation against Weber State Saturday night seeing how the Utes hadn't beaten the Wildcats since clear back in 1990.
But it took a large dose of intensity in the second half to help the Utes overcome a seven-point halftime deficit to win going away 71-54 before 14,406 at the Huntsman Center.The extra intensity was fueled by a scathing halftime talk by coach Rick Majerus and the reaction to a brutal foul against Terry Preston, which sent the Ute point guard to the hospital.
"That's probably the most psyched up I've ever seen us," said Utah's Keith Van Horn, who led the Utes with 24 points and 12 rebounds. "At halftime coach really got after us and woke us up. It definitely hurt our ears a little bit."
"He was mad we weren't competing," said freshman Alex Jensen, who was probably the Utes' most valuable player on the night with 17 points and 14 boards.
The Utes improved their record to 4-2 by outscoring the Wildcats 47-23 in the second half, while Weber fell to 3-2. But for a long time, it looked like Weber's game to win.
The Utes trailed 31-24 after a dreadful first half performance in which they made just 5-of-19 shots. That's when Majerus issued his halftime wakeup call.
It took a mere 72 seconds for the Utes to overcome the seven-point disadvantage. Ben Melmeth made a basket inside, Preston drained a 3-pointer and Van Horn followed with a trey from out front.
The Wildcats regrouped and retook a six-point lead at 41-35 before the Utes stormed back and tied the score at 43 on back-to-back treys by Drew Hansen and Van Horn.
The Utes went up for good when Van Horn hit a pair of free throws and the lead extended to 53-45 by the 6:50 mark.
That's when Utah's Preston went down in a heap near his own foul line after getting decked with a forearm shiver from Weber's 6-foot-8 center Jeff Lentfer.
While Preston was attended to by Ute trainers, Majerus went after Weber State coach Ron Abegglen pointing his finger and yelling vociferously.
Abegglen then asked an official what happened and when the official said it wasn't a flagrant foul, Abegglen said: "Tell him that," pointing to Majerus.
After Preston was helped off, Jensen came in the game to shoot the free throws for Preston. "When Terry got hit, I got into it," said Jensen, who had a brief shoving incident with a Weber player right after.
The Utes continued a 14-point run that made it 61-45 and from there they coasted home.
Afterward, Majerus was still upset about the Preston incident, but admitted he "lost control."
"He nailed him right in the throat and I saw the elbow," said Majerus. "I don't know (if it was intentional), but I thought it was at the time."
Preston went to University Hospital after the game and although Preston's brother said he was OK, Majerus was concerned.
"Terry's a tough guy so if he had to go to the hospital, it must not just be a bruise."
Preston wasn't the only Ute hurt in the game. Freshman Michael Doleac sprained his ankle late in the contest and is expected to be out three to five days. Brandon Jessie went down hard in the first half after bruising his ribs.
The Wildcats were led by guard Lewis Lofton with 20 points and Ruben Nembhard with 13. Jimmy DeGraffenreid scored the first seven points of the game, but none after the first three minutes.
Foul trouble and poor shooting plagued the Wildcats all night. They had 29 fouls to Utah's 16 and shot just 32.8 percent for the game.
The 6-foot-9 Jensen, a bright spot for the Utes all season, continues to impress in his first year.
"Alex looked to shoot more tonight and came through with rebounds and defense," said Majerus. "The kid's a warrior."
Melmeth added 13 points and 8 rebounds in one of his best efforts as a Ute. The Utes outrebounded Weber 50 to 28 for the game.
GAME NOTES: For Ute coach Rick Majerus, it was his 100th win at Utah . . . This week the Utes will have a lighter practice schedule because of test finals. Their next game will be Saturday night against NAIA school Adams State . . . Meanwhile the Wildcats will go to Hawaii where they'll play the Nike Classic in Honolulu Friday against Old Dominion . . . Utah leads the series with Weber 13 to 10.