Britton Johnsen was the sixth Ute in eight years to be named conference player of the year.
Oct. 3, 2002
SALT LAKE CITY - With Rick Majerus' return to the Utah bench last season, the Runnin' Utes made a quick return to the NCAA Tournament and won 20 games for the 10th time under his direction. In Majerus' absence in 2000-01, Utah came up short in its bid to reach the 20-wins plateau and make "Big Dance." Last season, the Utes finished 21-9 and earned an NCAA berth for the ninth time during the Majerus era.
The only thing that wasn't "business as usual" under Majerus was the Utes' second-place finish in the Mountain West Conference. Utah's run of seven consecutive conference championships, tied with Cincinnati's as the longest active streak in the country entering last season, came to an end by the narrowest of margins. Utah suffered a one-point loss at Wyoming on the final day of the regular season to go 10-4 in the Mountain West Conference, finishing one game behind the Cowboys.
With a roster comprised of four freshmen and only two players who had logged significant minutes for Majerus over the previous three years, the Utes needed time to build cohesiveness early in the season. As a result, they got off to a 3-3 start. However, the Utes rounded into form by mid-December and reeled-off 13 consecutive wins.
Utah opened the season's second month with an 81-74 triumph over Pepperdine, the West Coast Conference regular-season co-champion, on Dec. 2 in the Huntsman Center. Utah also chalked-up a 71-61 home win on Dec. 29 over Texas, which advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16. Unfortunately, the win over Longhorns was offset by a season-ending injury to senior center Chris Burgess. Leading the team in points (13.2 ppg), rebounds (7.2 rpg) and field goal percentage (66.0) at the time, Burgess went down five minutes into the game with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot.
With the loss of Burgess, Majerus was forced to retool Utah into a more perimeter oriented team-not an easy undertaking in the middle of season. However, the Utes adapted quickly and shot 59.3 percent from beyond the arc during their first four Mountain West Conference contests. Against UNLV on Jan. 12, Utah made a school-record 17 three-pointers. That performance also broke the MWC league-games-only record for threes and tied the conference mark for all games. Utah came back with 14 three-pointers in 18 attempts two nights later against San Diego State to equal the second-best mark in school history. In a 30-point rout of New Mexico in The Pit on Jan. 21, Utah shot 66.7 percent from long range to equal the third-highest single-game mark.
Without question, the Utes were on fire, and Nick Jacobson was fanning the flame. In the first three conference games, the Fargo, N.D., native shot 16-of-24 (66.7 percent) from beyond the arc. Jacobson hit five treys to put up a career-high 26 points against UNLV. He also had 25 points against San Diego State, tying the school record with seven three-pointers (in 10 attempts). After tossing in 19 points in an overtime win at Air Force, Jacobson earned Mountain West Conference Player of the Week honors on Jan. 21.
Britton Johnsen picked up where Jacobson left off, scoring at least 20 points in three consecutive games Jan. 21-Feb. 4. During that span, Johnsen averaged 24.3 points per game while shooting 65.7 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from three-point range. He had a career-high 28 points against Colorado State on Feb. 2 to help push Utah's record to 6-0 in conference play. For his efforts, Johnsen was named the MWC Player of the Week on Feb. 4.
After winning its last seven nonconference games and first six Mountain West games, Utah was 16-3 entering the first week of February. But, with the world coming to Salt Lake City and the U. campus for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, the Utes were forced to leave. Playing five of their final seven league games on the road, the Utes went 4-3 over the second half of the MWC schedule. Johnsen finished the regular season strong, recording three consecutive double-doubles Feb. 18-28. He had his fifth and final double-dip of the season with 11 points and a career-high 14 points at Colorado State.
Strong Season Propels Utes Into NCAA's
Utah opened the Mountain West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas with a 69-66 win over Colorado State. In the semifinals, the Utes fell to UNLV on its homecourt, 76-70.
After a one-year absence, the Utes were back in the NCAA's, making their seventh appearance in the tournament in eight years. Helping the U. earn an invitation to the "Big Dance" was its 20-plus wins against strong opposition. Utah's regular-season RPI ranked 31st in the nation. Ten of Utah's opponents were invited to postseason play with five receiving bids to the NCAA Tournament.
The Utes were placed in the South Region as the No. 12 seed, drawing a hot Indiana team that finished in a four-way tie for the Big Ten championship. The Hoosiers handed Utah its first-ever loss in the opening round of the NCAA's under Rick Majerus and advanced to the national championship game. Senior Phil Cullen ended his career in style with a personal-best 25 points, making a school single-game record seven three-pointers.
The Utes were led by a veteran group of four seniors; however, the underclassmen grabbed the majority of the headlines. Britton Johnsen was named the 2001-02 Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. It was the sixth time in the last eight years a Ute was been recognized as the top player in the league. Nick Jacobson and outgoing senior Jeff Johnsen captured third team all-league honors. Senior Travis Spivey earned honorable mention.
Britton Johnsen and Jacobson were both named NABC All-District, with Johnsen making the first team and Jacobson the second team. Johnsen was also honored as the USBWA District VIII Player of the Year.
When Burgess went down, Johnsen stepped-up his game to help fill the void. The native of Murray, Utah, led the Utes in rebounding in 14 of the final 20 games, averaging 7.4 per game during that stretch. Johnsen was second on the team in scoring (12.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.3 rpg), ranking 13th and eighth in the Mountain West Conference in those categories, respectively. He also ranked 12th in field goal percentage (49.6) and 15th in three-point percentage (35.6) in the MWC.
Jacobson led the Utes in scoring (13.0 ppg), reaching double figures in 21 of the 30 games. He also shot 44.4 percent from beyond the arc to rank 23rd in the nation and second in the Mountain West. In the process, Jacobson broke the U. season record with 71 three-pointers, betting the mark of 68 chalked-up by Phil Dixon in 1991-92. Jacobson also attempted the third-most three-pointers in a single season (160).
Jeff Johnsen was third on the team in scoring (10.6 ppg), and ranked 10th in the MWC in assists (2.83 apg) and 14th in steals (1.27 spg). Spivey ranked second in the league in both assists (4.52 apg) and assists/turnover ratio (1.90).
Shooting Into the Record Books
Utah was one of the hottest shooting teams in the nation from beyond the arc in 2001-02. The Utes ranked eighth in the NCAA in three-point percentage (40.5) and 34th in threes per game (7.84), leading the Mountain West in both categories. Those numbers also helped Utah rank 38th in the nation in field goal percentage (46.9).
Last year's team was the third-best three-point shooting team all-time at Utah and the second-best under Rick Majerus. The Utes set the school record with 236 threes made and recorded the fourth-most attempts with 582. On the single-game charts, Utah posted three of the top five marks for three-point percentage and two of the top six for threes made.
One of the trademarks of Utah during the Rick Majerus era has been stifling half-court defense. Last season, Utah ranked 13th in the NCAA in scoring defense, giving up just 61.3 points per game. Since 1989-90, Utah has ranked in the top 30 in the nation 10 times in scoring defense, nine times in rebound margin, eight times in field goal percentage defense and eight times in scoring margin.
Utah continued its streak of holding opponents under 80 points for a second full season. The Utes haven't allowed a team to reach 80 points for 66 consecutive games, dating back to an 88-61 loss at Wyoming on Feb. 28, 2000.
Thirteen players were named to either the fall or spring semester honor roll-six of which made the Dean's List. Lance Allred, Trace Caton, Nick Jacobson, Martin Osimani and Eric Osmundson represented Utah on the Mountain West Academic All-Conference team. Utah and BYU shared the league lead with five honorees apiece.
Utah's five selections to the academic all-conference team were also the most ever during Rick Majerus' tenure. The Runnin' Utes have had an academic all-conference honoree every year under Majerus; nine times they have had multiple academic all-conference selections.