When the Utah basketball team plays Missouri State today in another noon tip-off, a lot of fans may be wondering, who the heck is Missouri State?

It certainly isn't the University of Missouri of the Big 12, but it also isn't a podunk school that just gained its Division I status.

You may remember it as Southwest Missouri State, a school that gained some national recognition in the 1980s when it went to five NCAA tournaments and won 20 or more games for seven straight seasons.

Two years ago the school dropped the "Southwest" from its name and became Missouri State.

The Bears are members of the competitive Missouri Valley Conference and come into Utah with a 5-2 record after consecutive 22-win seasons.

Charlie Spoonhour, who later coached at UNLV, put the school on the map during his nine seasons (1983-92) when he won 70 percent of his games and had seven straight 20-win seasons.

Steve Alford, who now coaches at New Mexico, coached in Springfield for four years and took his team to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 1999, his last year.

Now the Bears are coached by Barry Hinson, who has been at Missouri State since the 1999-2000 season.

This year's team is well-balanced, with five players averaging at least nine points a game. Leading is 6-foot-5 forward Deven Mitchell, who averages 16.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Dale Lamberth, another 6-5 forward, averages 12.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

Utah coach Jim Boylen knows he's in for a tough game today but is still mostly concerned about making his team better every day. He was happy how his team competed in the recent loss to Oregon but wants to win those games.

"The competing is taken for granted, and now we need to find out how to win," Boylen said. "We want to build this thing with guys who think winning is acceptable, not just playing hard."

Guard Tyler Kepkay is coming off a 23-point game against Oregon, and he'll start along with Lawrence Borha on the guardline. Shaun Green and Carlon Brown will start at forward with Luke Nevill starting in the middle.

GAME NOTES: After today, the Utes will have another week between games, letting Utah fans concentrate on the football team, which will be playing in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday. The basketball team's next game will be Dec. 22 against California in Berkeley ... Stephen Weigh, the sophomore forward from Australia, says he is about "95 percent" as he comes back from the injured bruised ribs he suffered against Santa Clara on Nov. 19 ... Sophomore guard Curtis Eatmon is undergoing surgery on his hip Thursday and will miss the rest of the season.

Utes on the air

Utah (5-3) vs.

Missouri State (5-2)

Today, noon, Huntsman Center

TV: The mtn.; Radio: 700 AM

GAME NOTES: This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools. ... The Bears haven't played a game since Dec. 5. ... One of Missouri State's wins was a 60-56 victory over Saint Louis, coached by ex-Ute coach Rick Majerus.

E-mail: sor@desnews.com