Utah basketball: Runnin' Utes expect first real test of the season against Ball State

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 26 2013 6:16 p.m. MST

Utah Utes center Jeremy Olsen (41) congratulates Utah's Parker VanDyke as the University of Utah defeats St. Martins 91-54 in a men's basketball pre-season game Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — After five easy victories that hardly caused them to break a sweat, the Utah Utes face their first first real test of the season Wednesday night when Ball State of the Mid-American Conference visits the Huntsman Center for an 8 p.m. game.

The Utes, who are 5-0 for the first time since the 1997-98 season, won each of their first four games by at least 25 points before beating Savannah State by just 14 on Saturday night. But they likely won’t be able to empty the bench Wednesday night like they did in most of those contests.

“We’ve got our hands full,’’ said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “They have three nice perimeter players and a real solid post and some good senior leadership. They’re a good squad.’’

In Ball State, the Utes face a 2-2 team coming off a disappointing 59-58 loss to Butler at home Saturday.

The Cardinals are led by freshman point guard Zavier Turner, who averages 15.3 points and 4.3 assists per game. Other players who average in double figures are seniors Jesse Berry (14.5 ppg), Chris Bond (12.3 ppg) and Majok Majok, who is averaging 10.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

Krystkowiak said he scheduled this game in part as a tribute to former Ute coach Rick Majerus, who died late last year. Majerus coached at Ball State prior to coming to Utah, where he coached for 15 years.

“I thought that would kind of cool since Coach Majerus spent time at Ball State and to tie the two in,’’ Krystkowiak said.

Ball State is led by first-year coach James Whitford, who was 5-0 against Utah while an assistant at Arizona.

“They’re a good team, really well-coached, the best Utah team I’ve seen since they’re been in the Pac-12,’’ Whitford said at a press conference earlier this week. “It’s going to be a real test for us. They can score from more positions than they have in a long time and is much faster-paced than Utah teams in the past.’’

Whitford also mentioned the Majerus connection between the two schools and the fact that Ball State won two of the biggest games in school history at the Huntsman Center in 1989 when the Dick Hunsaker-coached team won two contests to advance to the Sweet 16.

After Wednesday’s game, the Utes will take a couple of days off for Thanksgiving and then prepare for their first road game of the year Tuesday at Boise State.

NOTES: In one previous meeting between the two schools, Utah beat Ball State 72-57 in a first-round NIT game at the Huntsman Center in 1992. ... The Cardinals were picked to finish fourth in the West Division of the MAC. ... Thanks in large part to its opening 128-40 win over Evergreen State, Utah leads the Pac-12 in scoring offense (91.2 ppg), scoring defense (54.4) and scoring margin (36.8). ... The Utes are also tops in the league in field goal percentage (54.5), 3-point percentage defense (13.8), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.94) and are second in rebounding margin (plus-15.6). ... Junior guard Delon Wright is first in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage at 72.5 percent and second in steals at 3.2 per game. ... Jordan Loveridge is third in the Pac-12 in rebounding (11.8) and sixth in free-throw percentage at 86.7 percent. ... Renan Lenz is third in the league in blocked shots with 2.6 per game. ... After playing Boise State, Utah's next home game is against Fresno State on Dec. 7.

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