The Utah basketball team began Mountain West Conference play Saturday with a 22-point victory over Air Force.

Tonight, however, the Utes go back to non-conference action with a 7 p.m. contest against Dixie State College at the Huntsman Center.

The question is whether a game against a Division II school with a 3-8 record, including a 37-point loss to Chaminade last week, will be good or bad for a Ute team playing well with four victories in its last five games.

Ute coach Jim Boylen believes the Utes can get something out of the game, even if his team is an overwhelming favorite.

"It's a game you have to be ready to play," he said. "You take pride in your work, you keep trying to get better and you represent your team at home. I've never gotten into ... well, this team is Division I and this team is Division II. We have to get better every time out."

Boylen said the Utes originally had a game with Saint Mary's lined up, but it fell through at the last hour. He preferred to fill the game with an instate opponent.

"We're excited about it," he said. "They have 10 Utah kids and I guarantee we're going to be ready to play."

The Rebels are led by Kasey Winters, a 6-foot-7 senior, who averages 18.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Ryan Sanchez, a 6-4 junior from Fremont High and College of Eastern Utah, averages 12.0 ppg, while Troy Randall, a 6-7 senior who prepped at East High before going to Western Wyoming, averages 10.2 points per game.

While this is the Rebels' only game against Division I competition, aside from an exhibition game against UNLV, two players have Division I experience. Winters is a transfer from Idaho State, while guard Dan Stock, who averages 7 points and 4.6 assists, played at Air Force and Portland State.

The Utes will be hoping to get their shooting touch back tonight. After standing No. 4 in the nation in field goal percentage a couple of weeks ago, the Utes have shot just 43.2 percent against AFA and 40.7 against Gonzaga in their last two games and fallen to 13th in the nation at 49.8 percent.

Boylen pointed out that the last three games, the Utes have faced a zone defense most of the time and have taken awhile to figure things out.

"Maybe we're just not comfortable against the zone yet," Boylen said. "All I can say is we've (been) working on it and seem to be able to figure it out as games go (along)."

The Rebels started off the season 3-3 but have lost five straight, including three games in Hawaii last week.

Utah has won seven of its last nine games and is 6-1 at home this year.

The Utes will be off this weekend and play next at San Diego State on Jan. 16.

E-mail: [email protected]