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Utes play to win - and they do

The Utah basketball team hadn't lost two games in a row in nearly four years. It had been more than four years since the Utes lost to Colorado State.

They weren't about to let either streak be broken Saturday night.Bouncing back from a disappointing loss at Wyoming two nights earlier, the Utes came up with a sterling defensive effort to defeat Colorado State 60-48 before 8,268 at Moby Gym.

The victory moved the No. 5-ranked Utes to 21-2 on the season and 8-2 in Western Athletic Conference play, while the Rams fell to 19-5 and 7-4 in the WAC. The win was also the 300th of Rick Majerus' career and his 201st at Utah.

"Tonight we played the way we played to win 20 other games," said Majerus. "The guys came out and played with purpose tonight. I was very proud of them. Their effort was sensational."

Although they shot poorly, the Utes held the Rams to 37.3 percent shooting, which included some late hoops when the game was pretty much decided. And guard Andre Miller bounced back from a couple of poor outings to lead the Utes with 16 points, six assists and four steals.

"We played hard and played to win, instead of not to lose," said Drew Hansen. "We outhustled them in every facet. This game was huge. Every guy responded."

Michael Doleac added 14 points, despite 5-of-15 shooting, while Hanno Mottola chipped in 10. For CSU, only reserve guard James Smith scored in double figures with 15 points. Leading Ram scorer Jameel Mahmud was held to just seven points.

The Utes completely shut down the Rams in the first half and if they had made their own shots, they could have had a double-digit lead instead of a measly 18-14 edge.

After the ugly first half, the Utes came out strong in the second half with six straight points to grab a 24-14 lead. They upped it to 34-21 when seldom-used Britton Johnsen made a nice baseline move and finished with a thunderous dunk with 11:47 left in the game.

The cold-shooting Rams finally heated up a bit and made three straight shots, including 3-pointers by Milton Palacio and Bryan Christiansen to cut the lead to 38-30 with 8:27 left. Then they cut it to seven at 42-35 on a 3-pointer by Mahmud with 6:40 left. However, Miller quickly answered at the other end with a drive to the basket that resulted in a three-point play and quieted the crowd.

Unlike recent games, the Utes hit their foul shots down the stretch, making 10 of 11 to keep a comfortable lead.

CSU coach Stew Morrill was clearly furstrated by his team's ninth straight loss to Utah over the past four seasons.

"They hadn't lost two in a row in four years and they came in here on a mission," he said. "That's just the nature of the beast."

The first half was either a defensive battle or a horrible shooting display, depending on how you looked at it. Neither team could find the hoop as both managed just 25 percent. Utah hit 7 of 28 shots, while the Rams hit 6 of 24.

The Utes led 16-9 with 7:30 left, but couldn't convert on their next seven possessions. Meanwhile, the Rams could only score on two of 10 posssessions to pull within 16-14 on Smith's 3-pointer.

The Rams had a chance to tie it three times, but when Palacio missed in the final half minute, Utah's Miller came back with a drive up the middle to make it 18-14.

Johnsen, who didn't play at Wyoming, saw seven minutes of action and scored four points, which tied Miller and Mottola for high-point honors in the first half.

"Britton gave us a lift," said Majerus. "I told Britton I was going to play him tonight because he's worked so hard in practice. I didn't care if it cost us the game, because he deserved it."

GAME NOTES: Because of a Big Monday game against UNLV on Feb. 23, the Utes only play one game this week, against Air Force Saturday night. Then they play three games the following week against UNLV, at UTEP and New Mexico in the home finale . . . This marked the fourth weekend in a row that the Utes have been on the road . . . The last time the Utes lost two games in a row was November of 1994 when they lost to Maryland and Michigan at the Maui Classic. The last time they lost two WAC games in a row was February of 1994 when they lost to Air Force and BYU . . . The Rams' Christiansen played high school ball at Emery High School with Shawn Bradley . . . Both teams made 19 of 51 from the field for 37.3 percent, but the Utes were 19 of 23 from the line compared to CSU's 5 of 10.