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Utah relives Wyoming ambush

The student in the second row of the Arena-Auditorium hit it right on the nose. His homemade sign simply read, "Feb. 12 '96/ Deja vu."

The date on the sign referred to the day a No. 7-ranked Utah basketball team came to this arena, blew a 14-point second half lead and lost to Wyoming by four points.The deja vu part applied to Thursday night's game, exactly two years later when the No. 5-ranked Utah basketball team blew another big second-half lead and lost to Wyoming, this time by a score of 62-56.

This time the Utes squandered an 11-point lead and did it pretty much the same way as two years earlier, with poor free throw shooting, defensive lapses and an inability to score down the stretch.

The loss, which dropped the Utes to 20-2 on the season and 7-2 in WAC play, caused Utah coach Rick Majerus to criticize several of his players afterward.

"I think each guy on this team, headed by me, let each other down tonight," said Majerus, who proceeded to single out several players for specific poor plays.

There was plenty of blame to go around.

Senior Michael Doleac, the best free-throw shooter in the WAC, missed three straight free throws when the score was tied at 56-56.

Andre Miller had his second straight poor game with six turnovers and just six points.

Hanno Mottola didn't block out on some rebounds and made a key foul at the end.

Sophomores Jordie McTavish and David Jackson each made mental mistakes.

Even Majerus could take some of the blame for inserting four substitutes in the game at the same time after the Utes had scored seven straight points to start the second half for a 38-27 lead. That's when they suddenly lost the momentum and never got it back.

Wyoming scored nine straight points as Utah went scoreless for more than four minutes. The Utes fell behind by five at 51-46 but rallied to tie the score on an Alex Jensen's 3-pointer and then went ahead 56-53 on a Miller post-up move inside with 3:21 left in the game.

But that would turn out to be the final points of the night for Utah.

Gregg Sawyer was fouled by Jensen, his fifth, and then after Mottola missed a 3-pointer, Mot-to-la fouled Sawyer, who made one of two to tie the score.

Doleac had a chance to put Utah ahead with 2:17 left but missed the first of a one-and-one. Then after a Wyoming miss, Dol-eac was fouled again and this time the 86-percent foul shooter missed two free throws.

"I just choked it off, that's all," said Doleac. "I wasn't nervous. You can't miss free throws in a tiegame."

"He's a senior, he's a captain . . . he's got to hit his free throws," said Majerus.

On Wyoming's next possession, Sawyer was fouled again and knocked down both free throws to put the Cowboys ahead for good.

At the other end, Miller lost control of the ball, trying to drive up the left side. Wyoming's Justin French then made his first field goal of the night on a drive up the middle and was fouled and with 39 seconds left it was 61-56.

The Utes had three more 3-point tries but never came close, and the crowd of 9,067 celebrated another win over a highly ranked Utah team.

"I couldn't be prouder to coach a bunch of guys, particularly the four seniors," said Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt. "Even when we got down by 11 points, the four seniors wouldn't let us get down."

Jeron Roberts led the Cowboy scoring with 20 points, despite being guarded by five different Utes during the game, while Sawyer added 13.

For Utah, Doleac led the way with 16 points and seven rebounds, but four misses from the foul line will haunt him for awhile.

Miller struggled all night and said he got tentative after being called with three offensive fouls. "I let the refs get in my head," he said.

Majerus had no complaints with the officials, who called 21 fouls on his team, compared to 14 for Wyoming. He had plenty of criticism for his own team, however.

"We weren't tough," he said. "We got 21 fouls called on us and we didn't draw a single charging foul. Our bigs didn't step in there and go down. They got 12 offensive boards, which is probably the year high and probably the last four year's high. We didn't hit our free throws."

The Utes will try to correct all those problems and bounce back Saturday night when they play at 19-4 Colorado State at 8:30 p.m. in a game televised on ESPN-2.

GAME NOTES: There seemed to be no longering effects from last month's confrontation between Majerus and Shyatt as the two shook hands afterward. Majerus did insist on a uniformed escort to and from the locker room as a precaution . . . The Utes have lost four straight in Laramie. Their last win was in 1993, the year before Keith Van Horn started at the U . . . . The Utes lead the nation in rebounding margin, but only ouboarded the smaller Cowboys 28-27 . . . After shooting 60 percent in the first half, the Utes fell off to 33 percent in the second half.