The ESPN-televised game between Utah and Wyoming tonight (9:30 p.m.) in the Huntsman Center won't have much significance to the national viewing audience except that it's another in a endless line of college contests.

For the Utes and the Cowboys, the game has considerable significance. Simply this: the winner can start the Western Athletic Conference tournament on Thursday with seven other teams, while the loser must face San Diego State Wednesday night in order to play Thursday."Saturday night's game is very significant," said Ute Coach Lynn Archibald. "We have to beat Wyoming - if not, we're going to have to play Wednesday night."

This is the last place, well, outside of last place, that the Utes figured they'd find themselves in at this time of the season. As everyone knows, at the start of the season, the Utes were picked by the media to win the WAC title.

With a 6-9 WAC record (15-15 overall), the Utes can't finish any lower than a tie for sixth place. If they lose tonight, they'll end up 6-10 along with Air Force and Wyoming, but because of tiebreaker rules will get the No. 8 seed.

A win would give the Utes a No. 6 seeding in the WAC tourney and they would play UTEP at 12:05 p.m. on Thursday.

If Wyoming wins, it would get the No. 7 seed and play either Colorado State or New Mexico Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

The Cowboys bring a guard-oriented team led by Robyn Davis (19.7 ppg), Reggie Fox (15.9) and Kenny Smith (12.1). The two inside players are freshman Tim Breaux (8.6) and Clauzell Williams (4.8). Williams did not play in the first Ute-Cowboy duel, won by Utah 82-80, because of academic reasons.

For Utah, it will be the final regular-season home game for seniors Mitch Smith, Jimmy Madison, Boo Singletary and Reid Monson.

Many folks are questioning whether the Utes can bounce back from the loss to Colorado State, their fourth WAC loss at home this season.

"This will really show what kind of team we have," said Archibald. "We can't get any lower than we are right now."

That is, unless they lose and end up in Wednesday's eighth vs. ninth-place game.