Updated: February 23, 2010 at 12:00 am
Air Force welcomes a rebuilding Utah program to Clune Arena tonight.
The Utes lost the top four scorers from last season’s 24-win Mountain West Conference Tournament champion squad to graduation, including league Player of the Year, Luke Nevill. And what’s left is a roster littered with newcomers and a starting lineup that tonight will include two freshmen and two sophomores.
That’s simultaneously the good news and bad news for Utah.
The Utes are struggling, having lost five of seven to fall to 12-14 and 5-7 in the MWC, but coach Jim Boylen see strides.
“Am I happy at 12-14? No,” Boylen said. “Do I like the direction of my team, and do I like the fact that there’s times on the floor I have three true freshmen playing or four of the five guys on the floor are freshmen and sophomores? I like that.”
Among those spearheading the rebuilding is MWC Freshman of the Year candidate Marshall Henderson. The 6-foot-2 guard has averaged a team-high 14.9 points in league games (fourth-best in the conference) and has scored 21 or more points in three of his past five games.
Henderson, who attended L.B. Bell High in Hurst, Texas (the alma mater of former Falcon Nick Welch), quickly is making a name for himself in the MWC with his long-range shooting and cocky on-court demeanor.
Heading into Tuesday night’s games, he led the MWC in made 3-pointers in league contests (2.9 per game). After many of those 3s, he’s held his follow-through in the air for a beat or two longer than necessary. He’s jawed with opponents’ fans on the road. And he was suspended for a game after hitting BYU’s Jackson Emery with a backhand slap.
“Got a little air about him, a little arrogance – and that’s good for a freshman,” Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said. “If you shoot it as well as he does, you can have that air and arrogance about you.”