SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time in 24 years, the University of Utah is hosting an early season basketball tournament this week at the Huntsman Center.
For nearly two decades, from the time the then-called Special Events Center opened in 1969 until 1988, the Utes hosted a four-team, two-day tournament, usually during the Christmas holidays.
This year's tournament will be played over the Thanksgiving holiday with four teams participating in a round-robin format with three games — Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
"We're going to try to get a tournament cranked up on a annual basis," said Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak. "We've got three solid teams coming in to play."
The Utes meet Idaho State on Wednesday night, then play Central Michigan at 5 p.m. Friday before finishing with Wright State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
HOLIDAY MEAL: With Thanksgiving right in the middle of the tournament, obviously nobody can go home for the holiday. But all the players will be taken care of, even if none will be going to the Krystkowiaks' house for Thanksgiving dinner.
"A player asked if he could come over to my house," Krystkowiak said. "But playing three games in four days, it's not bad to have the off-day where you're away from your head coach. Nobody really wants to see the head coach."
However, assistant coaches and others affiliated with the program will take care of players who have no family in town.
"We'll take care of everybody and make sure they have a meal," Krystkowiak said.
BREAKDOWNS: Krystkowiak said he left Friday night's loss to Sacramento State with a "knot in my stomach" and immediately watched a tape of the loss that night and again over the weekend.
Although he was happy for the most part with his team's passing, saying his team "made the extra pass, almost to a fault," he wasn't as happy with it down the stretch when his team blew a 13-point lead and didn't get good shots.
"When tide started to turn, our shot selection wasn't nearly as good — we had one-pass shots or no-pass shots," he said. "It was really a perfect storm where we shot ourselves in the foot on some possessions and were going down and taking some tough shots. We had some breakdowns."
NBA SCHEDULE: Playing three games in four nights is something rarely done in college basketball, usually only at conference tournaments. But Krystkowiak believes his team can handle it fine.
"It's the same situation for all the teams involved," he said. "We like to play a tournament like this because it sets you up for the Pac-12 tournament, when you do get into a tournament setting."
Senior guard Jarred DuBois isn't bothered by so many games in a short time.
"I've done it in conference tournaments (at Loyola Marymount) and the guys in the NBA play four games in a week," he said. "I think we'll be fine playing three games in four days."
Sophomore center Dallin Bachynski sees an advantage to all the games, saying, "I enjoy it because you don't have to practice." He later said he was kidding, but probably most basketball players really feel the same way.
MARTIN JUST FINE: Despite playing more minutes than all but one other player on the team, Cedric Martin has struggled offensively this year, scoring just six points in two games and ranking 11th on the team in scoring. This comes on the heels of a season where he was the third leading scorer for the Utes at 7.5 points per game.
However, Krystkowiak isn't concerned about his senior swingman in the least. He said Martin is their defensive stopper and as long as he continues to play strong defense, he'll be a key player for the Utes this year.
"It doesn't matter to me," Krystkowiak said of Martin's lack of offense so far this year. "If you could have a group of players who spend that much time and focus on playing defense and being in the right spot, we'd be in a pretty good situation. Our team has taken seven charges in two games, and he's taken six of them. He really gets it."
Krystkowiak said when players compete defensively like Martin, it's "contagious" for the rest of the team.
"He's a model or poster child of a guy that doesn't have to go out and make baskets — just go out and play your heart out on the defensive end of the floor," Krystkowiak said. "We saw last year where he can score the ball and we eventually expect him to do that."
UTE NOTES: The Utes have six players averaging in double figures led by DuBois and Glen Dean at 13.0 ppg, followed by freshman Justin Seymour at 11.5, Jordan Loveridge at 11.0 and Bachynski and Jason Washburn at 10.0. … Bachynski is the top rebounder at 8.5 rpg. … As a team, the Utes are shooting 55.1 percent from the field but just 66.7 percent from the free-throw line. … The Utes have just three non-conference road games and play two of them next week when they go to Texas for games against SMU on Wednesday and Texas State on Friday.
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