After his team shot a school-record 81 percent in the first half against Air Force Monday night, Utah coach Ray Giacoletti was nearly speechless in the locker room.
"To be honest, I didn't know what to tell them at halftime," he said." What are you going to tell them, you need to go 16 out of 16?"
How about 11 of 14, coach?
The Utes, which had jumped into the Top 25 earlier in the day, produced the best shooting night in Utah basketball history — 24 of 30 field goals for 80 percent, turning the usual nail-biter against the Falcons into a fairly comfortable 63-51 victory.
The win, in front of 11,282 at the Huntsman Center, gave the Utes sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference at 5-0 and extended the Utes' winning streak to 12.
Andrew Bogut scored 25 points on 11-of-12 shooting, while Marc Jackson had the only double-double of the night with 11 points and 10 assists, mostly on lobs into Bogut.
Actually Giacoletti must have said something right at halftime, because the Utes had led by just two points after the Falcons scored nine straight points to end the half.
But the Utes came up with one of their patented second-half runs, outscoring the Falcons 14-2 over the first seven-and-a-half minutes of the second half for a double-digit lead they never lost.
"We needed to be the tougher of the two defensively and tonight we needed to sustain our focus and discipline," Giacoletti said. "You can talk about it all you want, but to continue to do it possession after possession . . . I take my hat off to our guys."
After watching their 32-21 lead with 3:51 left dwindle to 32-30 at halftime, the Utes came out strong in the second half.
Bryant Markson, who finished with 11 points, got things started in spectacular fashion with a behind-the-head dunk off a great pass from Bogut, which got the crowd into the game. Then Bogut scored off an inbounds pass from Tim Drisdom before Markson sank a 3-pointer from the corner to push the lead to nine points.
After Antoine Hood scored for the Falcons, Bogut hit consecutive baskets off feeds from Jackson and Markson and when Drisdom drained a deep 3-pointer, the Utes suddenly led 46-32 with 12:38 left.
In the first half, it was the Jackson-to-Bogut Show as Jackson came up with eight of his assists, mostly on high lobs into the big Aussie.
"We talked about it before the game," Bogut said. "He said 'I'm going to throw it up and you go get it' and that's what we did. They tried to get it, but I came down with it and dunked it."
Air Force, which dropped to 3-1 in MWC play and 12-7 overall was led by last year's MWC co-player of the year Nick Welch with 15 points. However, his 1960s-style hook shot was off much of the night and he finished 6 of 16 from the field. As a team, the Falcons shot 44.4 percent from the field.
The Utes will now enjoy a rare week between games with their next action set for Monday night in Provo against BYU at 10 p.m.
GAME NOTES: The Utes are now ranked No. 25 in both the AP and coaches polls . . . Besides setting the school record for field goal percentage, breaking the mark (73.7 percent) set in 1987, also against Air Force, the Utes tied a school record for fewest field goal attempts (30) in a game . . . The Utes came close to the NCAA record for field-goal percentage — 83.3 percent, by Maryland in 1971 . . . There weren't a lot of rebounds in the game, but the Utes had 19 to AFA's nine . . . Bogut, the nation's leading rebounder, finished with nine boards . . . Since beating AFA in the 2000 MWC Tournament, the Utes had beaten the Falcons seven of 10 times. However, every one of the seven wins was by 10 points or less and none were decided before the final minute. Even in the 45-35 win in 2003, the Utes had trailed 33-31 with less than three minutes before staging a late rally . . . Last year Air Force beat the Utes 59-57 at the Huntsman Center in Utah's only home loss of the season on a fluke play in the final seconds . . . The Utes and Falcons meet again in Colorado Springs on Feb. 19.