After two weeks of practice, the University of Utah put its basketball team out on the showroom floor Thursday night in the Huntsman Center for fans to get their first peek at the 1990-91 model.
The Utes - or what was left of them - showed up all right, but just barely. The annual Night With the Runnin' Utes was supposed to consist of a three-point shooting contest, a slam-dunk contest and an intrasquad game. Due to lack of healthy bodies - there were just 10 of them - the two shooting contests were cancelled and the intrasquad game was cut to two separate 15-minute contests.In the first game, veterans Walter Watts, Jimmy Soto and Josh Grant, plus newcomer M'Kay McGrath - a junior college all-American - were all placed on the Red Team, which hardly seemed fair. Who set up this mismatch? Buster Douglas? Predictably, the Red team won handily, 40-23. The teams were reshuffled for the second game - and reshuffled several times again during the contest - to make things more even, but the Red Team won again, this time 35-32.
The outcome of the games of course was secondary to giving the team its first full-court, full-out action of the season. They hardly won rave reviews from Coach Rick Majerus, who watched the game from the stands.
"It's hard to tell," said Majerus, when asked to evaluate his team's showing. "They're so tired at this point."
If anyone is keeping score, Watts had 20 points, Soto 15, Grant 8 points and Larry Cain 12. So much for the veterans. Of the newcomers, McGrath had 19 points, Barry Howard 14, Brian Vandehays 14, Anthony Williams 12 and Tyrone Tate 13.
"The only disappointment was Josh," said Majerus. "Maybe he's fatigued. He didn't play with a purpose. He looked OK on offense, but then he let Larry Cain score on him on defense." Pressed to find a bright spot, Majerus said, "Tyrone and Walt did some good things."
For the players, Thursday's affair - played in front of about 2,000 fans - was probably a welcome respite after the rough-and-tumble practices they have endured this fall.
McGrath showed up for the game sporting a stitched up chin - a gift from one of Walter Watts' elbows. At least he could still suit up. Four other players were unable to play Thursday because of various injuries. Veteran Craig Rydalch underwent surgery Wednesday to remove a bone spur from his foot and will be sidelined at least two weeks. Newcomers Byron Wilson and Paul Afeaki are recovering from muscle pulls (Afeaki has practiced all of 10 minutes this fall). Phil Dixon, who suffered a serious laceration of his lower left leg while falling through a window last winter, is still not fully recovered from the accident and won't be for another year.
"We need someone like Oral Roberts to come in and lay his hands on these guys and get them better," Majerus told the fans.