The Utes, with a starting front line that averages 6-foot-9 and 233 pounds, got 18 points and 11 rebounds from Alex Jensen to keep them in the game. Then Hanno Mottola scored 22 points - 19 in the second half - to beat Arkansas State 80-58 in the first round of the NCAA Midwest Regional Friday.
"Alex kept us in the game in the first half, I don't know how many offensive rebounds he had, but he was valiant," Mottola said. "Then he got into some foul trouble in the second half and I got some open looks."
The victory stretched the Utes' winning streak to 23 games. They have never lost an NCAA first-round game under coach Rick Majerus.
Utah (28-4) dominated inside with its superior height against Arkansas State, whose front line averages 6-foot-6 and 189 pounds, out rebounding the Indians 40-24, and wearing them down in the second half.
"Our whole front line is so much taller than them," Jensen said. "In the end, we just used our height, especially inside."
Arkansas State (18-12), shot 42 percent in the first half but made just three of 13 field goals in the first 13 minutes of the second half.
"We played with good intensity the first half, but I think their size just wore us down," Arkansas State coach Dickey Nutt said. "When they closed down the perimeter, they were able to shut us down inside."
Arkansas State was playing in its first-ever NCAA tournament game. The Indians won the Sun Belt tournament to earn the berth. Their smaller, speedy team was able to give Utah problems early on, opening a 15-7 lead in the fist seven minutes.
But after Eric Beatty's basket at 13:15 Arkansas State did not score again until Beatty hit two free throws at the 5:25 mark. During that stretch, the Indians turned the ball over, couldn't get shots off and missed baskets. Utah came roaring back with an 18-0 scoring run and took a 25-15 lead.
"We're a grind-it-out kind of team," Majerus said. "We just keep going and playing defense and score off our defense."
| Utah's Andre Miller fights off an Arkansas State defender. (AP)|
Chico Fletcher, the Sun Belt player of the year, scored 21 points to lead Arkansas State. Fletcher was held to just three assists, however. He averages 8.5 per game.
"In the second half, I couldn't get a good look and I think I was forcing some things," Fletcher said.
Freddy Hicks had six blocked shots for Arkansas State, the third most in regional history. The teams combined for 13 blocked shots.
Beatty scored 17 points for Arkansas State.
Arkansas State cut the lead to three points, 33-30 with 44 seconds left in the half, but a 3-point basket by Tony Harvey gave Utah a 36-30 lead at the half. Harvey finished with 14.
All-American guard Andre Miller played only 29 minutes before leaving the floor. He hurt his injured left hand, but is expected to be ready for Sunday's game, Majerus said.
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