Utes 61

49ers 54LONG BEACH -- At the end of what seemed like an endless road trip that covered most of the last three weeks, the Utah basketball team delivered a brutal performance Saturday night. If it wasn't bad field goal shooting, it was bad passing. If it wasn't poor defense, it was atrocious free throw shooting.

Thank goodness for the Utes they were playing Long Beach State, a middle-of-the-pack Big West team that was coming off a scintillating three-point home victory over Cal State-Dominguez Hills earlier in the week.

Once again the Utes had to rely on Andre Miller as they held off the 49ers 61-54 in front of 3,536 at The Pyramid.

After a slow start in front of many of his friends and family who were on hand, Miller turned on the afterburners to score a career-high 29 points. With the Utes on the verge of a upset loss, Miller took the game over by himself and scored 22 of Utah's last 25 points, including 18 of the last 19.

"At halftime I told Andre to be more aggressive,' said Utah coach Rick Majerus. "It's tough for Andre because he doesn't have to same guys around him that he's had in the past.'

Miller, who almost looked like he had a mandate not to shoot in the first half when he attempted just two field goals, said he looked to score more in the second half.

"I just had to pick it up in the second half," said Miller. "I tried to push the ball and he more aggressive. In the first half I was trying to get everybody involved."

Coming back from a 23-23 halftime tie, the Utes seemed to have finally righted themselves when they took a 49-40 lead with 4:25 left on a drive by Miller.

But the 49ers stayed in it and thanks to a three-pointer and two three-point plays, suddenly they were within three at 52-49 with 2:26 left.

The lead was still three at 55-52 when the key call of the game came from the WAC officials, who didn't endear themselves to the hometown crowd.

The 49ers had the ball with 37 seconds left, when Ramel Lloyd was called for an offensive foul away from the ball on Miller. Coach Wayne Morgan went ballistic on the sidelines and Miller, who had missed two free throws a few seconds earlier, sank both this time to basically put the game away.

Majerus wasn't happy with his team's play, particularly 19 of 38 from the foul line, but said, "It was a good win because we couldn't have played any harder. I've said from the start we're not very good and it was very evident tonight."

Besides Miller, Alex Jensen bounced back with a good performance, getting 15 points and 10 rebounds. Hanno Mottola, pulled down 12 rebounds, but struggled offensively with 3 of 15 shooting from the field. The Utes shot just 39.6 percent from the field in addition to their 50 percent free throw shooting.

The Utes played a horrid first half, which finished with the teams in a 23-23 tie.

After looking sharp against the 49ers' 2-3 zone (what else?) and running out to a 7-2 lead in the opening three minutes, the Utes suddenly had a terrible time scoring. They didn't score a field goal for more than eight minutes and misfired on nine straight possessions with either a missed shot or a turnover. Thankfully for the Utes, Long Beach wasn't doing much better.

Finally Phil Cullen broke the drought with a follow of an Alex Jensen miss with 6:27 left.

Miller, who was coming off that MVP performance at the Great Eight tournament in Chicago when he scored 28 points, looked like he wanted to force his teammates to try some shots.

Miller's first shot came with 4:05 left on a 17-footer from the right angle. He followed that up with a rare dunk (he nearly always prefers layups, even in breakaways) to put the Utes ahead 20-19.

Jensen, who led the Utes with 10 points in the opening half, scored on a drive with five seconds left to give pull Utah into a halftime tie.

The Utes will play their first home game in 25 days when they meet Weber State Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center.