SALT LAKE CITY — When No. 6-ranked San Diego State plays the Utah men's basketball team Saturday at the Huntsman Center (2 p.m.), it will be one of the highest-ranked teams to ever play the Utes here.
But not the highest.
In fact, the Utes have faced a No. 1-ranked team once and twice played memorable games against No. 2-ranked teams, each featuring a couple of the best college players of all time.
Not only will the Utes be playing the 6th-ranked Aztecs on Saturday afternoon, they'll also take on No. 15 BYU three days later at the Huntsman Center. It is believed to be the only time Utah has taken on two ranked teams in such a short span, especially two Top 15 teams.
At least four times previously, the Utes have taken on Top 10 teams in Salt Lake.
Back in December of 1959, the Utes played No. 2-ranked Ohio State — with Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek — at Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse. Led by Billy McGill, who scored 31 points, Utah knocked off the Buckeyes, who went on to win the NCAA championship that season.
Probably the biggest hyped game against a ranked team at Utah was the New Year's Eve battle between the No. 7-ranked Utes and No. 2-ranked Wake Forest in 1996. That game featured two all-Americans who would later that year would go 1-2 in the NBA Draft — the Demon Deacons' Tim Duncan and Utah's Keith Van Horn.
Duncan showed why he was the best player in the country, as he had a near triple-double with 23 points, 16 rebounds and 8 assists, while making 9-of-11 shots from the floor
Van Horn won the scoring battle with 24 points, but missed 15 shots and had just four rebounds in the 70-59 loss.
The only time Utah faced the No. 1 team in the nation was on the second-to-last day of 2002 when a near-sellout crowd of 14,665 fans watched Britton Johnson and the Utes upset 9-0 Alabama 51-49. Although the Crimson Tide quickly plummeted in the rankings after that loss, they were the No. 1-ranked team in the nation at the time.
"If you enjoy defense, you enjoyed tonight's game," said then-Ute coach Rick Majerus about the low-scoring affair. "It was a possession-by-possession defensive slugfest. Every ball was a valuable ball."
Alabama's point guard was future Jazzman Mo Williams, who went by Maurice at the time. He led his team with 15 points and missed a last-second shot that could have sent the game into overtime.
Another memorable game against a highly-ranked opponent came in 1978 when the Utes took on No. 5 New Mexico at the Huntsman Center. Led by Buster Matheney and Jeff Judkins, the Utes edged the Lobos 95-92 in a game that went to the wire.
Utah's most recent contest against a ranked team came last year when the Utes were blasted by rival BYU 71-51. The Cougars were ranked No. 14 in the nation at the time. A month earlier, the Utes had played better in forcing No. 15 New Mexico into overtime, before losing 68-65.
The Utes' last home win over a ranked team was in 2008 when they edged No. 16 Gonzaga 66-65 on New Year's Eve. The Utes went on to win the Mountain West Conference title and postseason tournament title that season.
The memory of Utah's 2007 win over No. 11-ranked Air Force could give this year's Ute team some hope. Like this year's team, which has a losing record and is on a five-game losing streak, the Utes were just 5-12 on a six-game losing streak when the 17-1 Falcons came to town in '07. However, the Utes jumped out to an early lead and hung on for an 85-79 victory behind Luke Nevill and Johnnie Bryant.
Utah against Top 10-ranked teams in Salt Lake
Dec. 30, 2002 — No. 1 Alabama.....51-49 win
Dec. 31, 1996 — No. 2 Wake Forest.....70-59 loss
Feb. 23, 1978 — No. 5 New Mexico.....95-92 win
Dec. 22, 1959 — No. 2 Ohio State.....97-92 win
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