So what if they were coming off an emotional win over Texas four days earlier. So what if they had practiced for a couple of hours earlier in the day. So what if most of these strait-laced basketball players had actually stayed up past midnight to celebrate on New Year's Eve.
Utah coach Rick Majerus didn't want to hand out any excuses for his team's lackluster effort in a 63-57 win over Whitworth College Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center.
"We stunk," said Majerus. "We played low character, we didn't compete. Whitworth out-hustled us and out-competed us and played with more focus. I don't know how many more ways I can say that. Do you want me to go adjectives, adverbs, dangling modifiers, prepositions, pronouns? We didn't hustle tonight, period. Case closed."
Thanks, coach, for not telling us what you really think.
This was a game, on paper anyway, the Utes should have won by 25 points. Whitworth is a Division III school for crying out loud, one that had already lost to mighty Linfield College as well as Cal State Bakersfield by 15 points just last Friday.
Instead the Utes played just well enough to win their sixth straight game and improve to 9-3 on the year. They get one more tuneup, at St. Mary's Monday night, before beginning Mountain West Conference action against UNLV Jan. 12.
"Hopefully we'll come out and play harder and better," said Majerus.
The most telling statistic of Wednesday's game was rebounding. Despite the fact that they only had one player taller than 6-foot-5, the Pirates outrebounded the much-taller Utes 32 to 21. This was one department where the Utes really missed Chris Burgess (see accompanying story).
"They were a lot tougher than us," said Nick Jacobson, who led the Utes with 19 points.
Probably the best player on the floor was the Pirates' Gunner Olsen, a 6-4, 181-pound forward, who scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds. He scored on a variety of drives to the basket and outscrapped his taller opponents for rebounds.
Olsen also made the play of the day when he intercepted a lazy pass by Britton Johnsen at midcourt and finished his drive with a reverse dunk to bring the Pirates within two with 9:11 left.
Utah's best player Wednesday was Jeff Johnsen, who scored a season-high 18 points and came up with a pair of steals and a couple of blocked shots.
Yet he was one player Majerus singled out in his post-game comments, saying, "How many more games do Jeff Johnsen and Travis Spivey have left in their careers? Jeff isn't playing anywhere else except in the ward next year, so I would treasure every moment."
Although Jacobson scored 19 points, he had an off-night shooting, making just 5 of 12 from the field and 2 of 5 from 3-point range.
Britton Johnsen added 13 points and a team-high five rebounds but was just 1-for-4 from the foul line.
"It's embarrassing," said Johnsen. "We played so well against Texas. It was kind of a letdown tonight. But if we want to be a high-caliber team, we've got to put a team like this away and crush them from the start."
The Utes started off with a 6-0 lead in the opening two minutes but watched the Pirates go on a 14-4 run to take the lead before Phil Cullen's back-to-back 3-pointers gave Utah the lead for good at 22-17.
After settling for a four-point halftime lead, Utah increased its lead to 10 at 39-29. The Pirates hung in there and cut the lead to five more than once in the final five minutes but couldn't get any closer.