Even while Utah was winning 18 straight games to start the season, some people close to the Ute basketball program noticed that the Utes didn't seem to be having that much fun, despite their fine record.
It could have been the pressure of keeping the unbeaten string alive, but things got even worse when the Utes dropped two games in 11 days, blowing double-digit second-half leads in both cases.After Thursday's loss at Wyoming, coach Rick Majerus blasted his players for their effort and attitude. By Saturday, however, there was a more positive air around the Ute team even before the win over Colorado State.
It turns out Ute captains Michael Doleac and Drew Hansen requested a meeting with Majerus to let him know what the players were feeling.
"Sometimes I'm so intense and focused that I want to win more than other guys," said Majerus. "Drew and Mike talked to me and told me to loosen up a little bit."
The players responded with a much-improved effort, and Majerus was very postive with his players right from the opening tipoff. At one point when Doleac missed about his fourth layup of the night and was hanging his head, Majerus clapped his hands and yelled, "That's OK Mike, miss some more," because he liked Doleac's effort.
"I'm not as much into winning as I am into attitude," said Majerus. "(Against Colorado State) their effort was sensational and their commitment was very good."
Doleac preferred not to divulge details of the air-clearing meeting, but did say, "It was a good meeting. It was good for us to talk about some issues and he listened to our ideas. We played a lot harder Saturday and we had more fun."
FINAL 11: Ute guard Andre Miller is one of 11 finalists for the College Player of the Year, selected by the Basketball Writers of America.
Miller was one of 25 candidates for the award, now called the Frontier Communications Player of the Year. The list was pared to 11, who were featured at a teleconference at Madison Square Garden Mon-day.
The other finalists are North Carolina's Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter, Arizona's Mike Bibby and Michael Dickerson, Kansas' Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce, Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves, Connecticut's Richard Hamilton, Mississippi's Ansu Sesay and Ball State's Bonzi Wells.
ROLLING A 300: There was joy in Ute-ville Saturday when both the men's and women's basketball teams both beat Colorado State to put themselves in position to grab the No. 1 seeds for the upcoming WAC tournaments.
Coincidentally both coaches, Rick Majerus and Elaine Elliott, captured their 300th career wins the same day against the same school, with Elliott reaching the milestone just a few hours before Majerus.
It didn't impress Majerus, who only a week earlier celebrated his 200th win at Utah. "If you stay around long enough, you'll accumulate numbers," he said.
"We've had bigger wins, but when you throw all of the side stories in, it was maybe our biggest day," said Elliott, referring to the final home game for her seniors and the significance of the victory.
THE BIG 5-0: Rick Majerus turned 50 Tuesday, the same day Michael Jordan turned 35. Knowing Majerus, he probably celebrated it by watching a couple of extra game tapes of Air Force, Utah's opponent Saturday night.
Actually Majerus celebrated Sunday night with many friends at a surprise party given by Jon Huntsman at the Huntsman headquarters near the Ute campus.
UTE NOTES: With a sweep of their final three games and a title at the WAC tournament, the Ute women would most likely get to host an NCAA regional at the Huntsman Center, where there is no men's subregional this year . . . The Ute men are still rated low in the RPI ratings (28th), but are 15th in the Jeff Sagarin rankings in USA Today . . . After playing Air Force Saturday, the Ute men have three games next week, Monday against UNLV, Thursday at UTEP and Saturday at home against New Mexico . . . The men's golf team began its spring season this week in Hawaii, playing in the John Burns Invitational.