Having just suffered their first loss in two months, the University of Utah Runnin' Utes will move on to other business this week. There's a four-game homestand coming up. There's an 11-game shooting slump to fret over. There's a two-game lead over the rest of the Western Athletic Conference to protect. And, of more immediate concern, there's a rematch with the Hawaii Rainbows awaiting them tonight.
The Utes, who slipped from 12th to 17th in this week's national rankings after beating UTEP and losing to New Mexico last week, meet the Rainbows tonight in the Huntsman Center, beginning at 7:35.The Utes are 20-2 overall, 9-1 in WAC play; the 'Bows 11-9, 3-6.
"There's no win streak now, but I'm confident we're going to continue to have a great season," said guard Craig Rydalch following Saturday's loss in Albuquerque, which ended a 17-game winning streak.
"We have to feel pretty good about a split (on the UTEP-UNM road swing)," said forward Josh Grant. "The only reason we're thinking of the streak now is because it's gone."
The Utes' winning streak might still be alive if not for their lengthy shooting slump. They held a nine-point lead with 161/2 minutes remaining in the game against New Mexico, but during the next 12 minutes they didn't score a single field goal. They made just 8 of 35 shots in the second half.
The Utes are shooting 41.4 percent from the field in WAC play, and have yet to shoot better than 47 percent in a league game.
Grant, easily the team's top scorer (17.6 per game), is shooting 40 percent from the field in WAC play. "I've been hurrying my shots," he says. "That's been a big problem of mine this season."
The last time Utah met Hawaii was on Jan. 3 in Honolulu, and the Utes came away with a 63-60 overtime victory. The Rainbows, who have won just once in five road games this season, have struggled since then, but they have managed to beat two of the WAC's top three teams - Wyoming and BYU.
The Utes have beaten the Rainbows in 13 of their last 15 meetings.
Ray Reed, Hawaii's 6-6 forward, leads the WAC in scoring with a 20.3 average. Guards Phil Lott and Troy Bowe average 14.6 and 10.5 points per game, respectively. The other two starters are 6-6 forward Tim Shepherd (9.5 points per game) and 6-8 center Chris Walz (9.1).
"I love this kid Shepherd, and Reed is one of the premier players in the league," says Utah coach Rick Majerus. "They've got a nice team. I saw them play Wyoming the other night and was impressed with the effort they expended and how well they played together."
Conference All games
W L Pct. W L Pct. Utah 9 1 .900 20 2 .909 BYU 7 3 .700 13 10 .565 Wyoming 6 3 .667 16 5 .762 New Mexico 6 4 .600 16 6 .727 UTEP 5 5 .500 13 7 .650 SDSU 4 5 .444 9 10 .450 Hawaii 3 6 .333 11 9 .550 Colorado St. 1 7 .125 10 10 .500 Air Force 1 8 .111 7 13 .350