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Utah stuns struggling Gonzaga

Jan 1, 2009 - 5:37 AM SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- Luke Nevill led the way with 15 points and eight rebounds and Utah used some strong defense to drop No. 17 Gonzaga, 66-65, on Wednesday.

Utah began the game on a 14-2 run and spent the rest of the contest holding onto the early advantage. The Utes led, 36-32, at the half and held the Bulldogs to three points over the first seven minutes of the second half to stretch the lead back to 46-35.

"I think we started off the game strong, we went to our strengths," Nevill said. "We were hitting our shots, getting open threes, and just running our offense and we got a lead on them. They were fighting back at the end, but our mentality was that were going to be aggressive all the way up to the end."

Josh Heytvelt broke the drought with a 3-pointer and scored five points over the next seven minutes as Gonzaga chipped away. Jeremy Pargo's jumper with 6:13 left pulled the Bulldogs to within 54-53.

"(Gonzaga) just kept coming back, coming back, coming back and I thought that we handled the runs pretty well," Utes coach Jim Boylen said. "But against good teams, quality opponents like them, the games do shrink up. Sometimes it is out of your control and sometimes it is mistakes you made (that are the difference)."

But Nevill and Luka Drca combined for 10 points down the stretch as the Utes went 8-of-8 from the free-throw line in the final five minutes.

Gonzaga (8-4) had a chance at the end after forcing a turnover with seven seconds left, but Matt Bouldin missed a jumper and Austin Daye could not put back the rebound as time ran out.

"It was real crazy, I think it started with me on the free-throw line," Utah guard Carlon Brown. "I know I was nervous and all my teammates were nervous, but I hit them. Then for Gonzaga to get that tip on the out of bounds play and get the shot off, it was extremely nerve wracking, but Luke came up with the rebound in the end and we got the win."

Utah took advantage of Gonzaga's lack of size, winning the rebounding battle, 38-31, and blocking seven shots.

It was the third loss in a row and fourth in five games for the Bulldogs, who shot 35 percent (22-of-62) from the floor, including 2-of-13 from beyond the arc. Heytvelt, who leads the team with an average of 15.4 points per game, finished with 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting.

"I thought we did a good job down the stretch in this game, which we really haven't done in the last couple, of making the right plays and getting the right shots and doing the right things," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "And then we got a shot and got a direct tip but we are just not catching any breaks right now. Our shots aren't going in.

"Tonight we were not making the tough, hard-earned ones. We're kind of moving the ball around and we're not banging them through some guys. We need to toughen up in there and step up and make some shots, especially Josh (Heytvelt) and Austin (Daye). They are taking a lot of them, they're just not making them."

Gonzaga still has to travel to No. 18 Tennessee on January 7 before beginning West Coast Conference play.

Utah begins its Mountain West Conference schedule against Wyoming on Saturday.

"When you beat a quality opponent and it is a top-25 team, it's a national game," Boylen said. "For Utah to win a national game is what we've been striving for. I want this program to be a national program."