Monday, January 18, 1999
Utah probably won't be backBy Pat Bigold
in the NCAA finals, but a
WAC title is possible
Coming off a second place finish in the NCAA Tournament, Utah is in a rebuilding year.
But don't feel sorry the Utes.
"A rebuilding year for us will be 20 wins," said 10th year coach Rick Majerus, whose team won 30 games and finished last season ranked No. 2 in the USA Today/-ESPN poll.
Hawaii (3-12) meets the Utes at 7:07 p.m. today.
Utah has won its last seven games and returns to its starting lineup one of the best college point guards in the nation in Andre Miller. Two other returning starters who played in the NCAA title game loss to Kentucky last March are highly effective front line players: 6-foot-10 Hanno Mottola and 6-7 Alex Jensen.
"We could win more, but we're not going to approximate last year's team," Majerus said. Not only did he lose All-American center Michael Doleac, but three key reserves -- Jon Carlisle, Trace Caton and Britton Johnson -- are on Mormon missions.
Majerus said Miller is a superb passer and very intelligent decision maker in running the offense.
But he is more than that. The 6-2 senior not only leads the team in scoring (16.7 ppg) but also is second on the team in rebounding (6.5 per game). That's an extraordinary contribution from a point guard.
"Andre is our best competitor and he has a good shot to play in the NBA, but he has to prove that he is tougher, particularly on defense," Majerus said.
"Mottola is very versatile. I recruit a '4' man (power forward) as someone who can post up and someone who can face and shoot."
But Majerus said he wants Mottola, who was recruited out of his native Finland, to become more "physical" on defense.
Mottola hits 41 percent of his 3-point shots and averages 6.5 rebounds per game.
Jensen is the team's leading rebounder (7.2 per game).
Majerus' team plays New Mexico Feb. 1. A victory at The Pit could land them back in the AP Top 25.
Coach: Rick Majerus (10th season, 222-63).
Season: 12-4 (2-0 WAC).
Top players: Andre Miller, 6-2 senior guard (16.7 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, 7.5 assists per game), a returning All-WAC performer and one of nation's best point guards; Hanno Mottola, 6-10 junior forward/center (15.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg); Alex Jensen, 6-7 junior forward (10.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg); 6-1 junior guard Jeremy Killion (10.5 ppg).
Interesting facts: Mottola entered the weekend leading the WAC with an .898 free throw percentage ... Utah leads the series with the Rainbows, 45-9 ... The Utes have won 14 of the last 15 encounters and seven in a row ... This will be the last time the Utes visit as a member of the WAC. They will secede with seven other teams to form the Mountain West Conference next year.
Keys to the game: Despite the fact that the Utes are one of the WAC's best teams and climbing back toward the top 25, no Utah player is currently in the top 10 in the nation in scoring, rebounding or field goal shooting ... Hawaii's (3-12 overall, 0-3 WAC) top scorers are Marquette Alexander (11.6 ppg), Casey Cartwright (11.5 ppg) and Mike Robinson (11.4 ppg) ... Utah entered the weekend fifth in the nation in scoring defense (55.2 ppg).
Tipoff: 7:07 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center
On the air: Live on KFVE TV (Channel 5) and KCCN (1420-AM)