At last year's NCAA tournament, a major college basketball coach spent a lot of time with the Utah hoop team, attending practices and film sessions and, as Ute guard Andre Miller said, "hanging out with the team."

A year later, that coach, San Francisco's Phil Mathews, will try to put to use the things he learned when the Dons basketball team faces the No. 7-ranked Utes Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Boise.The Utes and Dons will play in the third game of the day at 5:55 p.m. MST at the Boise Pavilion.

Mathews, in his third year at USF, just happens to be good friends with Utah coaches Rick Majerus and Donny Daniels. He and Daniels have been "best friends" since they coached together at Cal State Fullerton in the early 1980s and each was the best man at the other's wedding.

Majerus said he helped Mathews get his job at San Francisco through the athletic director, a friend of Majerus. Mathews call himself a Majerus "disciple."

Now that his team is matched up against Mathews' team, Majerus says he probably wishes Mathews hadn't been so close to his program just a year ago. But he's not too worried that Mathews will suddenly know all the Utes' secrets and be able to exploit them.

"It's like the Chicago Bears trying to stop the Green Bay sweep when they know it was coming. Or it's like last year when I knew what was coming with Kentucky. It's different when you get in a game and have to stop Ron Mercer."

WHERE'S RADAR: It didn't take Utah long to start gathering information on San Francisco.

Utah video coordinator Jeff Strohm was scrambling Sunday evening to come up with tapes of as many USF games as possible this year, which isn't easy.

"It's sort of like the Radar O'Reilly approach on `MASH,' " he said. "You get some from here and some from there. We've been working hard on it."

BUSING IT: After their loss to UNLV late Thursday night, Utah basketball players took a seven-hour bus ride to Salt Lake.

It seems strange for a team that often flies on charter jets owned by Jon Huntsman to be wasting a whole day on a bus. Were the Utes being punished for their early ouster from the WAC tourney?

It was nothing of the sort.

"We couldn't get them on a plane out of Las Vegas," said Majerus. "Everything was booked, except a flight through Dallas. We could have gone on a single-engine charter, but I never put them on a flight I wouldn't take. (A bus) was the only way we could get back."

Daniels said the players had a pleasant ride and even watched a couple of movies to pass the time.

As for Majerus, he started driving on his own and somewhere along the way caught a flight. He wouldn't discuss the details, saying it was "a long story."

DIRTY CLOTHES: Any thoughts that the Utes would be affected by their surprising loss to UNLV were erased in the first two practices after arriving home.

Majerus called the Saturday and Monday practices "great" and said he "couldn't be more pleased."

In recent years, the Utes have prepared somewhat for their second-round games while concentrating on the first-round game. However, following the loss to UNLV, Majerus said his team is concentrating solely on San Francisco and that he hasn't "given a fleeting thought" to Arkansas or Nebraska, one of which the Utes would play if they get past USF.

"I told the players, `Don't pack clothes for the second day.' They can wear the same clothes if they have to. We're just trying to win game one."