SALT LAKE CITY — You'd think, looking at their records, that the Utah basketball team should have little trouble with Pepperdine when the two teams play tonight at the Huntsman Center.
Of course, that's what everyone thought last year until the Waves washed right over the Utes in a 76-64 upset victory in Malibu two days before Christmas.
Tonight, the Utes and Waves meet at the Huntsman Center (7 p.m.), and the Utes look like the favorites on paper with a 5-2 overall record compared to Pepperdine's 3-6 mark.
But coach Jim Boylen and the Utes are wary of a Pepperdine team that returns all five starters from a year ago when they beat the Utes. Plus, Pepperdine seems to play better away from home, where all three of their victories have come.
The Waves have an outstanding player in Keion Bell, who averages 25.3 points per game, sixth-best in the nation. The 6-3 junior guard is shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from 3-point range and is also second on the team in assists and third in rebounding.
The only other player averaging in double figures is 6-7 senior forward Mychel Thompson, who scores 14.3 points per game and leads the team in rebounding at 5.4 boards per game.
Eleven different players have started games this year for the Waves. In their last game, Taylor Darby (6.4 ppg), Corbin Moore (4.7 ppg) and Joshua Lowery (3.8 ppg) were the starters, with Lorne Jackson scoring 22 points off the bench.
"They challenge your one-on-one defense and you really have to compete on the ball with Bell and Thompson," said Boylen. "They drive the ball and attack the rim. They may be one of the most underrated rebounding teams we'll play."
The Waves are outboarding their opponents by 2.7 rebounds per game and, in their last game against Texas-San Antonio, they won the rebound battle 44-31, despite losing by five points.
The Utes, who are coming off a 68-60 victory at Bradley on Saturday night, have just two players averaging in double figures in JC transfers Will Clyburn (19.9 ppg) and Josh Watkins (17.0 ppg). The other Ute starters are expected to be Jay Watkins (7.9 ppg), Chris Hines (4.7 ppg) and David Foster (2.6 ppg), who started his first game of the year at Bradley after starting all of last season.
Jason Washburn (7.6 ppg) will share time with Foster in the middle, while Shawn Glover (7.0 ppg) and Chris Kupets (5.4 ppg) will see time off the bench.
After tonight's game, the Utes head back out on the road to play Michigan in Ann Arbor on Friday night. Then they'll have a week off before meeting Boise State on Dec. 17 at home.
Utes on the air
Pepperdine (3-6) at Utah (5-2)
Today, 7 p.m.
TV: none Radio: 700AM