Utah Crushes Arkansas State

The swarming Utah defense was in midseason form and center Nate Althoff looked great for a guy who wasn't supposed to be available until after Thanksgiving.

Althoff had 14 points and Jeff Johnsen added 10 Tuesday night and No. 16 Utah allowed six points through the first 13 minutes of the second half in a 76-43 victory over Arkansas State in the first round of the Preseason NIT.

Althoff, expected to be out until late this month with a back strain, scored Utah's first two baskets. The injury never bothered him, even when he went down hard four minutes into the second half on an intentional foul.

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  • "Nate played pretty well," said Utah coach Rick Majerus, who didn't let Althoff speak with reporters afterward. "He was hurt. We weren't sandbagging. He just knows his way around because he's been there for you."

    The Utes advanced to the second round and on Friday night will play the winner of Wednesday night's game between Penn and No. 14 Kentucky.

    The Indians started the 1999-00 season the same way they ended the last one: with a lopsided loss to Utah. The Utes beat Arkansas State 80-58 in the first round of the NCAA tournament last March.

    Arkansas State point guard Chico Fletcher had four points, breaking a string of 33 games scoring in double figures.

    "They took us out of everything we wanted to do," Fletcher said. "That's why they're one of the best teams in the country. If I got by one guy, there was another waiting for me."

    Jamie Rosser added 13 points to lead the Indians while C.J. Pepper had 11.

    "We came out and double-teamed the pick and then denied Fletcher after that," Johnsen said. "We wanted someone else to try and beat us besides Fletcher and Rosser."

    Utah extended its homecourt winning streak to 36 games, the third-longest streak in the nation.

    Majerus emptied the bench with five minutes to play. Th biggest cheer of the night came when walk-on guard Brandon Sluga made a layup with 3:40 remaining, giving the Utes a 72-36 lead.

    The smaller Indians were helpless to generate a threat against Utah's mobile defenders. The Utes held Arkansas State scoreless for spans of 5:56, 3:14 and 5:15 in the first half to build a 40-19 halftime lead.

    "We set the tone and kept the pressure on," said Utah forward Alex Jensen, who had eight of his 14 rebounds in the first half. "We expected a close game and we had that sort of intensity."

    Utah kept it going in the second half, forcing turnovers and collecting rebounds virtually every time the Indians had the ball. After Adam Sharp hit two free throws with 7:31 to play, Utah led 63-25.

    Offensively, Utah used efficient ball movement to keep the Indians off-balance and generate open shots. Reserve guard Trent Whiting hit all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half as the Utes scored in bursts.

    It was over by halftime, thanks in part to a 24-12 rebounding advantage.

    "The score was not indicative of how good we are," Majerus said. "We've got so much work to do, but it's a nice win and it was nice to see good enthusiasm and good effort."

    The Utes played without 6-foot-10 forward Hanno Mottola, who tore a knee ligament in his left knee during a rare exhibition loss last week. He won't return until around Christmas.

    ©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed