After a lengthy layoff, the University of Utah's ninth-ranked basketball team will return to work this weekend to put the finishing touches on the regular season. The Utes will travel to Provo Saturday for a late-night rematch with BYU in a game that's only just for fun. After all, the Western Athletic Conference standings are settled, if not the rivalry. Utah will finish first, BYU second.
But will anyone win the series? In the first game, Utah defeated BYU 81-74 in a game that also clinched the WAC championship. Winning in Provo will be another matter. BYU and Utah have split their regular-season series in each of the last six years. The Utes, who haven't won in Provo since 1987 and haven't swept BYU since 1983, have beaten the Cougars three consecutive times, including an overtime thriller in last year's WAC tournament.Saturday's game - brought to you in the late hours by ESPN - will begin at 10 p.m.
"Until they tell me that you get two wins for beating BYU, I'm not going to put any more importance on this game than any other game," says Utah coach Rick Majerus.
Nevertheless, the Utes, 25-2 overall and 14-1 in WAC play, will be trying to add to their long list of records in Saturday's regular-season finale. A win would tie a 41-year-old school record for victories in a season and break the conference record for WAC victories in a season.
The Utes haven't seen action in eight days (since a win over Colorado State), but they've kept busy anyway. They took Sunday and Monday off and practiced only briefly Saturday to rest their legs and prepare for next week's final exams. They've also found time for some fun. On Wednesday, the Utes visited the state capital to be honored by the legislature. On Thursday night, they took in Driving Miss Daisy at Pioneer Memorial Theater (the NCAA graciously gave the Utes official permission to accept free tickets, provided the players write a paper about the play).
In the meantime:
- Phil Dixon, who sprained his shooting wrist a couple of weeks ago, is still bothered by the injury and has missed some practice time. He'll play against BYU.
- Paul Afeaki is still not recovered sufficiently from a gunshot wound to return to action.
"He won't be back for the WAC tournament (next week)," says Majerus. "If he comes back for the NCAA tournament it will be miraculous. I want to get him back just to get him ready for next year."
- Walter Watts is set to play in post-season all-star games. "He'll play in two for sure - one in Japan and one in Virginia," says Majerus. "If he does well there, then he'll be invited to the College All-Star Classic in Orlando. This is Walter's shot at the big time. He has a chance to play in Europe. I'm a big proponent of education, but one of the purposes of getting an education is to get money. Walt's been invited to two pro camps, but right now he's borderline as a draft pick. If he could get to the second round of the draft, he'd have some nice guaranteed money."
Anyway, back to Saturday's BYU rematch, Majerus says, "We've got to do a better job on (Shawn) Bradley, but we won't make any major changes. Obviously, Bradley's the most formidable center this side of Shaquille O'Neal."
In the first Utah-BYU matchup, the front-line trio of Bradley (20 points, 10 boards), Ken Roberts (10 points) and Steve Schreiner (17 points) did most of the damage for the Cougars, accounting for 47 of their 74 points.
"I like Schreiner," says Majerus. "He's first-team all-league. A lot of people think (Wyoming's Reggie) Slater is the best low-block player in the league, but Schreiner is second only to (New Mexico's Luc) Longley."
Saturday's game will be the final tuneup for both BYU and Utah before next week's WAC tournament in Laramie, Wyo.