Let's turn the time over to Benny Dees, head basketball coach of the Wyoming Cowboys, for today's scouting report on the University of Utah.
"They remind me of us," says Dees of the team that will face his team Thursday night here in the Arena Auditorium. "Except they've got better athletes."It's the first time since the Southern Mississippi game (earlier this month and one of just two losses by Wyoming this year) that we've played a team with athletes better than us.
"Utah scares me. They've got so many players, they all look like clones, they're well built, and they play hard. Josh Grant and Walter Watts really scare me, and then there's (Phil) Dixon, who hasn't missed a shot since the third grade. And (Byron) Wilson, he's a great athlete, he worries me a lot. I'll tell you what, we've got matchup problems. We've got a guy in the middle, (Reggie) Page, who can't move, and they run that motion. I almost wish we were a zone team this particular night. We might lose him (Page) about the first quarter and not be able to find him.
"Utah's a lot like us. I thought they'd be in about the middle of the WAC this year, where I thought we'd be. We got some good junior college guards and we caught New Mexico and Colorado State on nights they didn't want to play well. It wasn't anything we did. We've been lucky. We're not as good as our record (13-2).
"I'm like the Pinkerton Detectives were with the Sundance Kid. I'm wondering where did these guys (the Utes) come from? I mean, good Heavens, I thought they'd struggle without (Tommy) Connor (who graduated). I had a lot of respect for Connor. But they haven't missed a beat.
"On paper, I agree that it's a great matchup. We like to play man defense, same as them. We both have a lot of new players doing some good things, we both have good records (and national rankings - the Utes are 22nd, the Cowboys 25th). But they're coming in here riding so high (a 12-game win streak). I just hope we can keep it close. I'm telling the truth.
"And one other thing. You talk about being scared to death. As soon as Utah leaves we've got to play BYU, and they're playing like gangbusters. I don't see how in the world they've lost all those games with the talent they've got. We're going to lose two ball games this weekend. I don't see how we can't."
Obviously, if Dees' players perform Thursday night as well as their coach talks, they won't be in as much trouble as predicted.
Also obviously, Utah's reputation is spreading.
The Utes and their 15-1 overall and 4-0 WAC records have emerged as the best team in the early conference race - barely in front of the Cowboys, 13-2 and 3-0. Tonight's game will keep just one of them undefeated and atop the WAC standings.
The teams are intriguingly similar in that neither was predicted to be having such a banner year when practice began on Oct. 15. With man defense, hard work and an influx of new, unknown players added to solid veteran returnees, they have turned into national powers.
They are 1-2 in the league in scoring margin, 1-2 in the league in rebound margin, 1-2 in the league in 3-point shooting, and 1-2 in the league in field goal defense.
Dees does admit of his own team, "we're getting good guard play. We haven't had good guard play since I've been here, but that's changed. The two juco kids (Maurice Alexander, a starter, and Paris Bryant, the sixth man) have played real well. That's been the difference."
Utah coach Rick Majerus hasn't spent the week being out-complimented by his Wyoming counterpart. His pregame reports on the Cowboys have been as laudatory, or more so, as Dees' assessment of the Utes.
Speaking, for instance, of Wyoming forward Reggie Slater, the top rebounder and No. 2 scorer in the WAC, Majerus said, "He's like Charles Oakley," referring to the New York Knicks rebounding ace, "only better."
"Hey Reggie," Dees said to Slater after hearing that one, "did you know you were better than Charles Oakley?" "Well, yeah," answered Slater. "But I thought I was the only guy who knew it."