Such are the expectations surrounding the Utah basketball program this season. How far the mighty have fallen. These days the Ute’s are satisfied just being competitive with USD and Air Force. Rick Majerus must be rolling over in his grave. Wait, what? He’s alive? Well it appears his legacy at Utah certainly is dead.
From Boylen’s behavior on the sidelines you would never guess that he believes the Utes are headed in the right direction. Never in the history of college basketball has there been a more obnoxious coach. On the sideline Boylen plays better defense than his team does on the floor. Regularly throughout the game he scurries up and down the sidelines, wide eyed, with hands outstretched as though his demonstration will suddenly enthuse the Utes into playing decent defense. Well apparently it works for him. Aztec fans should remember this infamous play during which he became the first coach ever to enter the box score, when he stole the ball from Lorrenzo Wade.
Boylen’s antics have caused somewhat of an exodus of talent from the basketball program. 4 players with remaining eligibility left Utah in the off season. A promising Ute freshman, Marshall Henderson, quit the team and transferred to Texas Tech. Henderson was the kind of player Mountain West fans loved to hate. He was cocky, the kind of guy that would drain a 3 (to go 1 for 6), and hold up his fingers in triumph, despite being on the losing end of a 70-68 score. Though, last year during the game at BYU Henderson did something every fan can appreciate, when he punched BYU’s Jackson Emery. So I guess he’s okay in my book.
The ride up to Utah was tiresome and taxing. Believe it or not, traveling 10+ hours by car from sunny San Diego into pollution riddled Salt Lake City is not the best of times. We did make the most of it though.
I was excited when during the drive we began to see myriad billboards featuring advertisements for various wedding services. Seeing those, I knew we were approaching the heart of LDS country. We finally arrived to our hotel, the Grand America, after 9 PM on Friday night. The morning of the game we headed out to get some food and noticed there seemed to be plenty of fog in the air. It was not until later in the day we learned that the air was not filled with fog, it turned out that it was in fact smog.
We arrived at our seats in the arena with about 20 minutes until game time. Our seats were positioned just a few rows in front of Ted Leitner’s broadcast booth, and at mid-court. Ideal tickets for viewing an Aztec beat down. While the arena was still quiet the 7 of us sang the fight song, loud and proud. The Aztecs took notice as Malcolm Thomas pointed us out and James Rahon fist pumped along to “S-D-S-U SDSU Aztecs Fight!” The outburst of school spirit must have been somewhat of a surprise to the smattering of Utah faithful in attendance, as many of them turned their heads to wonder what was going on. On the topic of fight songs, it’s always funny to hear Utah’s anthem. It is a catchy tune that could be confused with the Mickey Mouse song. You can sing along starting at the 11 second mark. M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, M-I-C-K-E-Y, M—O—U—S—E… MICKEY MOUSE!
On this particular day the MUSS (Mighty Utah Student Section) was a bit of a disappointment. A more apt moniker would be the Meager Utah Student Section. Apparently the Ute students cannot get up for a home game against the #6 team in the nation. Meanwhile Viejas Arena is sold to capacity against the likes of Occidental College. Here you can see the few dozen students that remembered there was a game waving giant heads, a trademark of SDSU’s The Show. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
In the first half the Aztecs were unable to get off to a dominant start. Playing their second consecutive road game, I was ready to cut our team some slack. The second half was business as usual as the Aztecs went on a routine 10-0 run, the 18th run of the year of at least 10 unanswered points. The Aztecs went the first 19 minutes of the second half without a turnover so I credit our team with the ability to adjust at half time and better execute. The highlights of the game were Tim Shelton’s ridiculous number of charges drawn (4), Billy White’s intimidating screen and DJ Gay’s 4 second half threes. One of my favorite plays was one in which the Aztecs showed great determination, despite missing several shots around the basket, the players continued to do work and get rebounds, finally Malcolm Thomas put the ball in the basket and drew a foul.
In the second half I was able to dance my way on to the big screen, during the Boogie Cam timeout segment. With the general lack of enthusiasm in the arena I knew I was sure to be featured, so I danced with the intention of pimping my MWC Champions shirt once I appeared on the screen. Unfortunately once I was about to display my shirt, they must have realized they’d zeroed in on an Aztec and the camera switched to a different fan.
Late in the second half we enjoyed the traditional early exit of the losing fans. We stuck around for a while and sang the fight song once things had quieted down. The Utah fans were definitely disgruntled with us singing our fight song in their house. No one likes us, we don’t care!! One ballsy Utah fan attempted to put the Aztecs down by asking who we have beaten, and I was happy to inform him that “As far as you’re concerned, we just beat Utah!” So Utah should be a perfect fit for the PAC 12, with their basketball team on a 6 game losing streak and their football team’s loss to incoming Mountain West team Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
After the game we waited until Steve Fisher’s radio interview had ended and took the opportunity to take a photo with Coach. Steve Fisher was, as always, very gracious and thanked us all for coming. I thanked Coach Fisher and said “We’ll see you next week in New Mexico.” After the photo Natalie asked Coach Fisher if he could help her out with a little problem she had. Natalie recently had the contents of her wallet stolen, including tickets to several basketball home games. Natalie politely asked (and I paraphrase), “Steve Fisher, would you happen to have any student tickets on you to the UNLV game on Wednesday?” Seeing that Coach was a little confused, Natalie explained her unfortunate circumstances. As Natalie relayed her story, Mike May stood at the ready and handed her a business card. Coach Fisher instructed Natalie to give him a call when we all got back to San Diego, saying “we’ll get you into that game!” Steve Fisher, the classiest guy I know.
Having successfully invaded Salt Lake, we were more than happy to get on the road back to America’s Finest City. But first we had one stop along the way, in a town called Provo. We stopped at LaVell Edwards Stadium, where we spotted an open gate to the football field. I so wanted to run onto the field and desecrate it, but the girls would not allow it, apparently they didn’t want me to get into any sort of trouble. I still think it would have been totally worth it, no matter the consequences. Well, the main reason I wanted to stop in Provo was to mount the statue of a cougar which stands outside their stadium. I was excited to display my sign warning the Zoobs of their doom, which they will meet on February 26th in San Diego.
After the detour in Provo, we sped off down the 15 towards our town. Everything was going swimmingly until only a few miles before crossing the border into Arizona. It was there that we were stopped for speeding. The name of the exit where we were stopped? Brigham Road. Of all places in the state of Utah. The officer approached the vehicle and asked “is there any reason you’re going this fast?” To which I responded “To get the F*** out of this state!” He didn’t take too kindly to that so he decided to give me a citation for speeding. They can’t stick it to us in basketball, so I guess they’ve got to get us this way. We finally arrived back in San Diego around 4 AM. The drive back was made more enjoyable by our jovial shouting of the fight song, and being 17-0 can make any drive enjoyable. In less than 48 hours we drove to Utah, watched the Aztecs win and drove back. VICTORY!!
So, we look forward now to our next road trip. This upcoming Saturday we will travel to The Pit at New Mexico.