Bogut leads Utes with 25 points, 12 boards

DENVER (AP) -- Shots clanged off the rim, passes headed back the other way and the lead seemed to dwindle with each tick of the clock.

For one of the few times all season, the Utah Utes were back on their heels. But instead of stumbling, the Utes charged forward in what could be the perfect preparation for the emotional swings of the NCAA Tournament.

Andrew Bogut had 25 points and 12 rebounds and made some big plays down the stretch to help No. 15 Utah hold on for a 73-67 victory over UNLV on Friday night in the Mountain West semifinals after nearly blowing a 22-point lead.

Utah (27-4) seemed ready to roll into Saturday's championship game before nearly collapsing against UNLV's pressure defense. The Utes got it together just in time -- thanks to Bogut -- pulling out a harder-than-it-should-have-been victory for a chance to defend their Mountain West title.

Sure, it led to a lot of heart-pounding on the Utah bench, but it's better to get a stinker out of the way now instead of next week when the NCAA Tournament starts.

"We have not had to be in those situations a lot," Utah coach Ray Giacoletti said. "It's hard to simulate those situations in a practice setting. Unless you're going through it with that type of pressure, you need to experience it firsthand, and hopefully it'll help us down the road."

UNLV (16-13) stormed back from a miserable first half behind Romel Beck but didn't have enough left to finish it off. The Rebels had no answer for Bogut inside and couldn't make the big shot in the closing minutes in losing to Utah for the sixth straight time.

"It was a terrific effort to get ourselves back in it in the end, but you can't afford to get yourself in hole like that against a team like Utah," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said.

Utah tried to turn the rematch of last year's final into a rout early. The Utes held UNLV to two points during a seven-minute span to go up 14 late in the first half and then opened the second with a 10-2 run that made it 42-20.

Then Beck brought the Rebels back.

The senior forward hit three 3-pointers during a 14-2 run that cut Utah's lead to 52-46 with eight minutes left and then trimmed the margin to 57-54 on a hard drive. He added a runner with just over a minute left, finishing with 17 of his 19 points in the second half.

"I knocked a couple of shots down, started getting into a rhythm and from there on I just started firing it up and they started going in," Beck said.

Utah certainly helped the Rebels get back in it.

After relying heavily on Bogut early, the Utes inexplicably went away from the Australian star during UNLV's run, trying to take the Rebels off the dribble instead of pounding it inside. Once UNLV got within striking distance, Utah went back to Bogut -- and he responded.

Bogut fed Bryant Markson for a layup and then converted inside on the next possession to put Utah up 63-56 with 2 minutes left. UNLV twice cut the lead to three again, but Bogut answered again, this time breaking the press to set up two free throws and a layup by Justin Hawkins that made it 67-62.

"In our second half, I think we relaxed a bit and they came back and hit some shots," Bogut said. "They were on a run and Beck was feeling it. We just had to scramble for that win at the end."

Bogut came up big down the stretch, but with no players taller than 6-foot-9, UNLV didn't have anyone who could match up with the big Australian all night.

The Rebels tried double-teaming him, but Bogut either kicked the ball out and reset in the post or dribbled until the second player went away. One-on-one, UNLV stood no chance.

Bogut scored Utah's first seven points and had 11 in the first eight minutes after scoring 11 in 4 minutes against Colorado State in the
first round. He finished 9-of-17 from the field.

Bogut was at times a one-man show offensively, but the Utes were united when it came to stopping the athletic Rebels.

Dictating the pace with its deliberate offense, Utah prevented UNLV from running and cut down on penetration in half-court sets. Point guard Marc Jackson was particularly effective, using his in-your-face style to hound Ricky Morgan into six turnovers.

Of course, it helped that the Utes had Bogut in back to make up for any mistakes.

Bogut blocked just one shot, but the Rebels certainly knew he was there. In one sequence late in the first half, Bogut made Jerel Blassingame change his shot and then turned around and harassed Joel Anthony into a miss on the rebound.

Bogut even took some time for a little spying, listening in as UNLV gathered in the lane before a free-throw attempt.