Given their medical report, the University of Utah's Runnin' Utes hardly seem fit to open the 1990-91 basketball season tonight, but that's what they'll do.
The battered and bruised Utes will meet the University of California-Davis in the Huntsman Center. The game, which will be the first of four contests in eight days for Utah, will begin at 7:35.The game will mark the end of a fall practice schedule that has been severely hampered by an uncanny number of injuries. It wasn't until Thanksgiving that the entire team was finally able to practice. "It was a Red Letter Day for this year's team," said Coach Rick Majerus. However, Majerus, fearing further damage, canceled one of two practices scheduled for Friday.
"The problem is they've all missed practice time," said Majerus. "I'm disappointed for the kids and for myself."
Majerus said he plans to start veterans Josh Grant and Walter Watts, junior college transfer M'Kay McGrath and first-year sophomores Tyrone Tate and Byron Wilson in tonight's game. Grant missed three days of practice this week after an old back injury flared up. McGrath has been hampered by shin splints. Watts missed three days of practice last week when doctors thought he might have appendicitis. Wilson has recovered from a hip-flexor injury, but he sprained an ankle early this week.
On the other hand, center Paul Afeaki, who has been sidelined by a hamstring pull, is finally able to practice, and swingman Craig Rydalch, who underwent ankle surgery only 21/2 weeks ago to remove a bone spur, is making a rapid recovery. "We might suit Craig up and let him play a little," said Majerus.
Cal-Davis, which opened the season with wins over UC-Santa Cruz and Dominican College, returns four starters from last year's 11-16 team. The Aggies, who play in the Northern California Athletic Conference, feature a small lineup of 6-3 Matt Cordova, 6-4 Richard Saunders, 6-6 Peter Vanos, 6-1 Michael Arnold, 6-4 Stephen Smith. Cordova, who averaged 10.6 points per game last season, is the team's top returnee.
The Utes have played two exhibition games so far this season, losing to Athletes in Action and beating a Belgian club team. Grant was impressive in both games, totaling 38 points and 18 rebounds.
Tonight's game will officially mark the start of Majerus' second season at Utah. He coached six games last year, but then underwent open heart surgery, which sidelined him the rest of the season.