Utah Utes basketball notebook: Utes can still finish on a positive note
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah closes out the home portion of its schedule this week with Pac-12 games against California on Thursday and Stanford on Saturday.
It's not exactly what the doctor would order for a team on a seven-game skid. Besides sporting winning records, the Bears (22-6, 12-3) and the Cardinal (18-9, 8-7) have victories over the Utes (5-21, 2-12) earlier this season.
In January, California defeated Utah 81-45 and Stanford topped the Utes 68-65.
The past, though, isn't making the present any less significant.
Utah center Jason Washburn insists the team is determined to get the job done. It's important.
"It's a last chance for our fans to watch us, a last chance to give them a win," Washburn said while acknowledging that the Utes have fared better at home than the road this season. "So we're looking forward to it. We've got to play with a lot of pride, we've got to play with a lot of heart and we've got to play to win because we feel we can."
Utah is 5-8 in the Huntsman Center this season. The Utes are 0-10 on the road and 0-3 at neutral sites. They'll close out the regular season next week at Oregon State and Oregon.
The Pac-12 Tournament begins March 7 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
"We're guaranteed five more games and we're going to play them all to the best of our ability," Washburn added. "And we're going to let whatever happens happen."
NOSENIORNIGHT: Saturday's game against Stanford could have been "SeniorNight" for DavidFoster and Josh "Jiggy" Watkins. Circumstances, however, have dictated otherwise. Foster has been sidelined with a foot injury and plans to return next season. Watkins, meanwhile, was dismissed from the team last month for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
"The game gets to start a lot faster," joked junior guard ChrisHines.
On a more serious note, though, he provided an update on Watkins.
"He's doing well," Hines explained. "He said he's going to finish out school and stuff like that. So he's doing real well."
Even so, Hines added that it's "unfortunate" that Watkins won't be on the court for what would have been his final home game as a senior.
At the time of his dismissal in January, Watkins was leading the team in scoring (15.6 ppg) and several other statistical categories.
MISSIONCALL:FreshmanBlakeWilkinson has accepted an LDSChurch mission call to Riverside, Calif. (English speaking), and will enter the MTC on May 23.
The former Viewmont High star, who has appeared in 21 games for the Utes and started seven times, said the coaches have been "completely supportive" of his decision.
"I couldn't ask for anything better from this coaching staff. They haven't been trying to force me to stay or anything," Wilkinson said. "They understand it's important for me to go and that's that."
Playing major college basketball, he noted, has been something he's enjoyed every minute of this season.
"I've seen so much progress with myself and as a team," Wilkinson said. "From the end of my senior year to now, I've improved as a person and a basketball player more than I expected."
Wilkinson was awarded a scholarship in January after initially joining the Utes as walk-on.
"It really was a dream come true for me. That literally was the dream — to get a Division I scholarship," he said. "To play at a major college basketball school, that's even bigger than what I expected. So it's definitely everything I could ask for."
Upon his return in two years, Wilkinson emphasized that he would love to come back to the program.
Utes on the air
California (22-6, 12-3)
at Utah (5-21, 2-12)
Thursday, 7 p.m.
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