Here it is the final week of the regular season and the Utah basketball team's role has been reduced to that of a spoiler.
The Utes will get a chance to spoil the Western Athletic Conference title chances of Colorado State, the other team picked to win the WAC at the start of the season along with Utah.The Rams, who bring a seven-game winning streak to Salt Lake, will meet the Utes Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.
The Rams come to town as the hottest team in the league. Their last loss was an overtime defeat at New Mexico clear back on Jan. 26. With a 10-4 WAC mark, they are tied with the Lobos for first.
With a pair of wins this week, (they play at BYU Saturday afternoon), the Rams could grab the WAC regular-season title for the first time ever along with the No. 1 seed in next week's WAC tourney. The Rams especially want a good performance Thursday to give them confidence on the same floor where the WAC tourney will be played March 8-11.
CSU is not an overpowering team. Of its 10 WAC wins, only three have been by more than 10 points, one of those being the 63-49 win over Utah Jan. 19. Three of its last four wins have been by one over Hawaii, by five over Air Force and by three over Wyoming.
The Rams have one of the league's top players in Pat Durham, who averages 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. He is joined in the starting lineup by a pair of 6-foot sharp-shooting guards in Joel Tribelhorn (13.7 ppg) and Trent Shippen (7.8). The other starters are forward Jamie Hines (4.6) and center Eric Friehauf (6.8).
"They are playing very well right now," said Ute Coach Lynn Archibald of CSU. "They have two outstanding shooting guards. Tribelhorn really hurt us in the first game."
Tribelhorn scored 18 points, including 4-of-4 3-pointers against Utah in the game in Fort Collins. This past week he was named WAC player of the week after three outstanding games. He leads the WAC in three-point shooting and is eighth in the country with his 55.7 percentage.
For the Utes, the CSU game means a lot because they would like to finish in the No. 5 spot for the WAC tourney where they would likely face Hawaii in the first round. In order to do that, they need to win two games and have BYU lose at least one of its games, since the Cougars have an edge in WAC tiebreaker proceedings.
The Utes won't change much at this point with Mitch Smith, Josh Grant, Boo Singletary, Mark Lenoir and Jon Hansen starting and Jimmy Madison the top man off the bench.
The Utes finish their regular season Saturday night against Wyoming in a 9:30 p.m. game televised on ESPN.
Team League overall
Colorado St. 10-4 18-8
New Mexico 10-4 18-8
UTEP 9-5 20-6
Hawaii 8-6 15-10
Utah 6-8 15-14
BYU 6-8 13-13
Air Force 6-10 14-13
Wyoming 5-9 13-1
San Diego St. 4-10 12-14