Utah Utes basketball: Jim Boylen thrilled with O’Brien’s big game

first_imgSALT LAKE CITY — Anyone who has been paying only casual attention to the Utah basketball team this year is probably asking the question, “Where has this J.J. O’Brien been all year?”O’Brien was a revelation Wednesday night in the Utes’ 82-72 victory over New Mexico, as he scored 18 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, had a pair of assists and a steal in 33 minutes of action.The answer to the aforementioned question is, “sitting on the bench,” although it wasn’t because his coach didn’t think O’Brien was any good. The freshman from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., had to sit out six weeks with a stress fracture in his foot and watch in frustration as the Utes struggled in the early part of the season.But now he’s back and don’t blame coach Jim Boylen if he says, “I told you so.””I’ve been preaching that I thought J.J. O’Brien could be special, and I tried to be humble about it,” Boylen said. “But I thought he could be a really special player. I’m thankful he’s healthy, because he’s a difference-maker for us.”O’Brien showed that from the opening tip as he made Utah’s first two baskets on drives to the rim.”I was just trying to be aggressive,” he said. “Driving the ball is a strong suit of mine, so that’s what I was trying to do.”Later he scored on a spin move inside, scored on a couple of follow shots off rebounds and also sank his first 3-pointer of the season.O’Brien has gradually been working his way back and showed a glimpse of what he could do with a 13-point, 11-rebound performance in a loss to BYU last week. He said he feels more comfortable every game after having to sit out for most of the season because he was injured after the first game.”It was very frustrating being out,” he said. “Coming in and starting right away I had expectations from the fans. Being out was a big setback, and I tried to see the game from a different perspective sitting on the sidelines.”But I always knew my opportunity would come — rebounding, playing defense, stuff like that and showing my versatility. Coach Boylen has been talking about that third scorer. I’ve been working hard to help my team and today it was me.”After scoring the first two Utah baskets of the game, O’Brien scored 10 points in the first half when Utah took a 45-31 lead. Early in the second half, he sank a 3-pointer from the right angle, then made a three-point play inside.Then, after scoring his 18th point with 7:20 left, he created a Lobo turnover by forcing a jumpball under the New Mexico basket.The 6-foot-7 O’Brien played guard in high school and even played point guard this past summer, according to Boylen. With Utah being thin inside with Jay Watkins out for the year, O’Brien gives the Utes needed inside help along with his guard skills.”He has versatility with that big body and ability to handle the ball,” Boylen said. “He’s a physical presence for an 18-year-old freshman with a high basketball I.Q. That’s where he’s really special. He’s a special, versatile guy.”e-mail: sor@desnews.cocm U. tames Lobos for consecutive wins Relatedlast_img

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