HONOLULU — It's not exactly how the Utah basketball team hoped to spend Christmas.
The Utes will be playing a morning game (noon MST) against 2-10 San Diego for seventh place in the Diamond Head Classic. Only close personal friends and families of the players and coaches are expected to be in attendance at the Stan Sheriff Center at a time when most people are sitting down to Christmas breakfast or opening presents.
One way or another, the Utes were going to be playing on Christmas Day in this eight-team tournament, but they had hoped to be playing later in the day for a higher placing in the tournament. While not many folks expected them to be playing for the championship, the Utes were hoping to get at least two victories on their trip to the islands.
Now, they'll be happy with one.
The 7-5 Utes are coming off their most dismal performance of the season, a 68-55 loss to a shorthanded Hawaii team with just eight players. The Warriors' top scorer is out with an injury and their top recruit quit the team early in the season.
The Utes fell behind the Warriors early and led only once in the game as they were afflicted by poor ball handling (18 turnovers) and poor shooting (33 percent from the field, 1-of-15 from 3-point range).
Ute coach Jim Boylen was "disappointed" in the loss, but ready to move on after Thursday's defeat.
When asked about having to play at 9 this morning, he said, "I'm excited about it. It's a great opportunity for us We'll say it's noon Salt Lake time, so we'll be all right."
The Utes should be able to beat the Toreros, who were picked for eighth in the West Coast Conference this year and have started the season 2-10. In their two games in Hawaii, they were beaten handily by Baylor 83-50 and Mississippi State 69-52. Their only victories have come against non-Division I schools, Occidental and La Verne.
The Toreros are led by 6-5 sophomore Ken Rancifer, 6-5 sophomore forward (10.5 ppg) and Darian Norris, a 6-foot guard from Salt Lake Community College, who averages 10.3 ppg.
USD is getting outrebounded by 6.5 boards per game and Chris Manresa 6-8 sophomore forward is the team's top rebounder at 4.9 per game.
The Utes will need to get more from their center position today as starting center Jason Washburn has gone scoreless in so far in the tournament, while fouling out of both games in 27 total minutes. David Foster scored just six points in the two games, but has blocked 11 shots and grabbed 16 rebounds in the two games.
Leading scorer Will Clyburn struggled against Hawaii, making just 2 of 12 shots, although he did hit 10 of 15 from the free throw line to end up with 14 points. Josh Watkins led the scoring for the second straight game with 16 points, but also had five turnovers.
The Utes had planned to take Friday off and do some sightseeing, but as of Thursday night, those plans were on hold.
"I don't know. We're going to watch film and practice, so we'll see," said Boylen. "There's no days off now. We have to get better and grow."
After today's game, the Utes will play again on Dec. 31 against another WCC team, Portland, before opening Mountain West Conference play Jan. 5 at Air Force.
Utes on the air
Utah (7-5) vs. San Diego (2-10)
Radio: ESPN 700 AM