In 82 years of basketball at the University of Utah, only four Ute teams have ever managed to win 14 or more games consecutively. Tonight, the 1990-91 edition of the Runnin' Utes will try to make it five.
Utah and the Air Force Academy - the best and worst of the Western Athletic Conference - will meet tonight at the academy in a televised game (tipoff: 7:30), and the Utes will be chasing a little history.The longest winning streak in Ute history is 16 games - a record that was set during the 1912-13 season, 78 years ago. Since then, several teams have come close, but the record has stood. Utah won 14 consecutive games stretching from the end of the 1939 season to the 1940 season. They did so again during the 1959-60 and 1980-81 seasons.
The current Utah team has won 13 consecutive games, which has carried the Utes to a 16-1 record, sole possession of first place in the WAC standings (with a 5-0 mark), and a national ranking (22nd in UPI, 23rd in AP).
Presumably, they will add to their win streak tonight, although the Falcons have pulled off surprises before. After meeting and beating what were supposed to be the top three teams in the WAC in the last 10 days - New Mexico, UTEP, Wyoming - the Utes now face the league's worst team - Air Force.
The Utes have beaten the Falcons in 18 of their 23 meetings, but in recent years the Falcons have given them trouble on their home court. Of their last eight games in Colorado Springs, the Falcons have beaten the Utes four times (including last year) and lost by one point three times. This from a team that annually finishes at the bottom of the league standings.
The Falcons are 6-8 overall and 0-3 in league play this season. Their best player is 6-foot-4 forward Chris Lowry, who averages 16.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. The rest of the lineup consists of 6-8 forward Brent Roberts, 6-8 center Aaron Benson, 6-foot guard George Irvine and 6-3 guard Charles Smith. Benson and Irvin both average about nine points per game.
"Air Force is a solid team that is well coached and very smart," says Utah coach Rick Majerus.
For the record, Majerus has won 20 of the 23 games he has coached since coming to Utah two years ago - and 49 of the last 55 games he has coached on the collegiate level.
"I'm very proud of this team," said Majerus, following Thursday's surprising road win over nationally ranked Wyoming. "They play hard and they play together as a team . . . If a guy has an off game, someone else steps in."
That was certainly the case on Thursday in Laramie. Phil Dixon, the team's three-point specialist, missed three shots in as many attempts and played just long enough (7 minutes) for Majerus to see that this wasn't his night. He benched Dixon for the rest of the game, while reserves Craig Rydalch, Jimmy Soto and Paul Afeaki totaled a combined 43 points.
Rydalch, who made 6 of 9 field goal attempts, including 4 of 5 treys, finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. The 5-foot-8 Soto proved a good match for Wyoming's speedy guards, tallying 15 points and 4 assists. Afeaki totaled 11 points, 5 boards and 2 blocks and played a big part in holding Wyoming's star forward, Reggie Slater, to six points and no offensive rebounds.
"We're a great team, as far as the word team goes," said Rydalch. "We're not just one person. We play as a team."
Nine players continue to average six or more points per game for the Utes. Only Josh Grant, who had 23 points against Wyoming, is averaging double scoring figures (17.5 per game).