Once again, Utah basketball fans were given the opportunity to flee the Huntsman Center early Tuesday night - perhaps they were able to get in some late-night Christmas shopping - as the Utes beat up on another patsy.
Following up on their easy win over Adams State Saturday, the Utes came up with their largest margin of victory in more than 80 years by crushing Chicago State 105-38. That's a 67-point margin for those who don't have a calculator handy.Let's see, this wasn't the home-opener patsy, and it wasn't the end-of-test-week patsy. So how in the world did this patsy called Chicago State find its way onto Utah's basketball schedule?
Good question. While Chicago State did manage to win one game earlier this year, it hasn't had a winning season in nine years and hasn't won more than 10 games since 1988. At least it is a Division I school, believe it or not.
"It's over and done, what can you do? I never thought they'd be that bad," said Ute coach Rick Majerus, who had to be as embarrassed by the outcome as the Cougars were.
Chicago State coach Craig Hodges saw his team shoot just 21 percent from the field and throw in the towel midway through the second half. Majerus was left to actually sit on the bench for much of the game and watch his third-string "gray" squad outscore the opposition 32-6 over the last eight minutes.
Majerus did everything but recruit players from the Ute band and was sympathetic to the losers. "I lost by 45 to Purdue my first year at Ball State," he said.
Last year the Utes went back to Chicago to play the Cougars and won by 19 in a game that was fairly close until the final minutes. Majerus acknowledges his team is better than last year and better than he thought it would be at this point.
"I knew we'd be young and need some confidence," he said in trying to justify scheduling the contest.
As usual Keith Van Horn and freshman Alex Jensen led the way for the Utes - Van Horn with 23 points and 12 rebounds, Jensen with 13 points and eight boards. Brandon Jessie added 11 points, while Terry Preston and Ryan Hunt both scored 10.
After a slow start when the two teams combined for 1-for-14 field-goal shooting, Utah jumped ahead by as many as 21 before settling on a 43-24 halftime lead.
As the Cougars, whose main strategy seemed to be to fire up 3-pointers from anywhere (32 of their 62 shots were treys), kept missing, Utah's lead kept growing. When Majerus took out his main men for good with 7:58 left and went with a lineup of four walk-ons plus Doug Chapman, the Utes led 73-32.
But instead of the Cougars making the score more respectable, the scrappy Ute scrubs actually picked up the pace with a 32-6 run. When Chapman took a feed from Hunt and went in for a dunk to put the Utes over century mark with 20 seconds left, the remaining fans erupted with the biggest cheer of the night.
"I was happy for those gray kids tonight," said Majerus. Besides Hunt, a walk-on last year, this year's walk-ons Doug Meacham, Kelly Leonard and Tim Cannon, scored nine, four and four, respectively.
Desmond Rice had the only decent game for Chicago State with 14 points. Leading scorer Kory Billips finished with just two points on 0-of-9 shooting.
"It was one of those things where you get behind the eight-ball and it's hard to come back," said Hodges, the former Chicago Bulls player. "You just have to wash it down the shower. After a performance like this you have to go back to the drawing board."
UTE NOTES: Friday night the Utes play in-state rival Utah State in Logan. For Majerus, it will be a reunion of sorts with Aggie star Silas Mills, who was originally recruited to Utah from Milwaukee by Majerus . . . Utah forward Ma Jian didn't play because of a two-game suspension imposed by Majerus for "violating team academic rules" . . . Freshman center Michael Doleac sat out for the second straight game with a sprained ankle and is listed as questionable for the Utah State game . . . Mark Rydalch played 11 minutes and made his only shot, a 3-pointer . . . The only two larger victory margins for Utah were over Salt Lake High in 1913 (103-19) and Fort Douglas in 1911 (79-8).