Utes coach hoping for ‘bloodbath’

Sitting down on the job is a foreign concept to Utah coach Jim Boylen, who runs the court during a game with more intensity than some players.

If he ever grows tired of coaching basketball — and that won’t happen — Boylen could be a candidate for defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He would interview well for the position, at least.

Listen to Boylen and it sounds as if a football game will break out when UNLV (15-4, 3-2 Mountain West Conference) plays the Utes (12-6, 3-1) at 1 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“I hope it’s a defensive dogfight. I’m hoping it’s a scrum and a bloodbath,” Boylen said. “I like those kinds of games.”

Boylen watched the Rebels overcome a 13-point halftime deficit to defeat Brigham Young 76-70 on Wednesday, and he praised UNLV’s second-half effort.

“That team was very tough, very physical,” he said. “I thought their intensity level was great, and they got every loose ball.”

He said the play that stuck out most to him was when Rebels guard Wink Adams dived on the floor and outfought the Cougars’ Jonathan Tavernari for a loose ball late in the second half.

Obviously, Boylen is not a teacher of finesse play, and he does not spend his free time watching figure skating.

“His teams always play extremely hard, and they’re physical and play with great conviction,” UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. “There’s no question our guys have great respect for Utah.

“We know it’s going to be hard-fought. We know against a good defensive team, points are hard to come by, and they’re a good defensive team.”

The Utes rank first in the MWC in field-goal defense, limiting opponents to 38.7 percent shooting, and they have held eight consecutive teams below 42 percent.

It sometimes helps to put six defenders on the floor. In Utah’s 72-63 loss at San Diego State on Jan. 10, the Aztecs’ Lorrenzo Wade made a steal, but as he tried to race up the floor he ran into Boylen, who was crouched about a foot onto the court. The ball hit Boylen, and the officials awarded possession to the Utes. Boylen later drew a technical after walking on the court to protest a call.

Reflecting on last season, his first in trying to rebuild the Utes program, Boylen said, “I did not sit down one minute of one game. I felt my team needed that energy and that passion. I’m hard on my guys, but they know I love ’em.”

His hard work with 7-foot-2-inch senior center Luke Nevill is paying off. The Australian, a soft player early in his career, is averaging 17.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.

Boylen said Nevill has a shot to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft. Nevill averaged 21.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in three games against the Rebels last season, when UNLV won two of three.

Kruger can use a combination of defenders — 6-8 Darris Santee, 6-10 Brice Massamba, 6-7 Joe Darger and 6-6 Rene Rougeau — to harass Nevill in the middle.

“He’s had the physical tools. To me, it’s been his commitment to the team and the relationship with his teammates. We do a lot of things for him to get him the ball,” Boylen said. “Luke can score, he can catch, and he can run, and he has been terrific on the defensive end.”

Boylen, who spent more than a decade in the NBA as an assistant coach for Houston, Golden State and Milwaukee, was on Tom Izzo’s staff at Michigan State when Utah gave him his first head-coaching job.

The Utes went 18-15 last season, when Boylen worked tirelessly to rally fans to support the program.

“I’m just trying to do everything I can to get this back on solid ground,” he said. “I was selling. I was like the guy in the market saying, ‘I’m going to make you money, trust me.’ Everybody was looking at me like I had a horn coming out of my head.

“When I walk around the street, people say, ‘Thanks for bringing us back.’ That means a lot to me.”

He set up a nonconference schedule that included games against California, Gonzaga, Louisiana State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah State. Utah split with those six opponents and is 18th in the nation in the Ratings Percentage Index.

“I stuck my neck out there pretty good on that. I try to play the best teams we can play to make us better,” Boylen said. “I’m not worried about catching Dean Smith or Jim Boeheim in wins.

“You can’t put a price on when you beat Gonzaga, when you beat Oregon and when you beat LSU by 30. It has energized the program.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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