The Utah basketball team has enjoyed some exciting weeks in its 101-year history, but not many like this upcoming one as far as non-conference games go.
For one of the few times in its history, Utah will play two big-name programs at home during the same week with Michigan Wednesday night (7 p.m.) and Oklahoma Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.). That is, unless you want to count that December week back in 1994 when the Utes hosted Adams State and Chicago State the same week.
Actually you'd have a hard time finding a time when the Utes have ever played a pair of teams from "BCS" conferences the same week.
In 1996, when Keith Van Horn was a junior, the Utes played Texas and Wake Forest within a 10-day period in late December.
Otherwise you have to go back to 1987 when the Utes played Colorado and Providence to find a pair of teams from a major conference in the same week at home. And those two teams weren't "national caliber" type teams as the Utes won both games by 20-plus points.
Although both teams have dropped some games recently, both Michigan and Oklahoma were ranked high this season with the Wolverines as high as No. 15 and the Sooners as high as No. 17.
"It's a big week for our program, an exciting week," said Utah coach Jim Boylen. "This is a terrific homestand for us. My team is excited. My guys want to play these games."
In talking about this year's schedule, which also includes a game next week against unbeaten Illinois State from the Missouri Valley Conference and the earlier game with Utah State, Boylen said, "I like our schedule this year. It's as competitive as it's ever been."
Well, he's not quite right there. Last year's schedule was even tougher, with home games against Oregon, Cal, Gonzaga and LSU. Boylen doesn't believe in filling his home slate with a steady diet of Azusa Pacifics and Montana Techs as one former Ute coach used to. In fact, in 15 years under former coach Rick Majerus, the Utes played a total of 15 games against big-name teams, average of one per year.
"We haven't shied away from playing anybody," Boylen said. "We want to play the best schedule possible."
So how is Boylen able to schedule these kinds of games while other in-state and Mountain West Conference teams can't (or won't)?
Boylen says he always offers to go to the other team's place first. The Utes played at Oregon, Cal, Gonzaga and Oklahoma before those teams came to Salt Lake. Utah was actually supposed to play at Michigan this year, but for scheduling reasons the Wolverines asked to come here first.
The other thing is not being afraid to play anyone.
"It's never been a priority for me to look at our record and say we won 70 percent of our games," he said. "I'm not catching Dean Smith. I came here to build a program and win championships."
Boylen believes tough games, win or lose, will help his team down the line, like it did a year ago, when the Utes got into Mountain West Conference play and won 12 of their first 14 on their way to a co-championship.
"My team has to get better in a win or a loss," he said. "We're playing as good a competition as we can get in this building. That's what we have to do to get better."
The biggest frustration for Boylen has been the lack of support for these games. Last year three of the four "big" games drew fewer than 10,000 fans with only Gonzaga getting a big draw with 12,571. He's hoping that will change this year.
Next year, Utah's big games will come on the road, with games at Michigan and another Big Ten team and a Missouri Valley team, along with games in the Diamond Head Classic, which will include Mississippi State, Baylor, Florida State, Butler, San Diego and a Pac-10 team.
UTE NOTES: Jason Washburn was cleared to practice Monday after sitting out for two games. He suffered a concussion after getting elbowed in the layup line at the Oklahoma State game. Boylen said the Utes have been "very cautious" about Washburn's injury and "hopes" he can play Wednesday ... With 30 blocked shots already this year, David Foster is well on his way to breaking Luke Nevill's record of 92 set last year. Through eight games last year, Nevill had 17 blocks ... Utah's last game with Michigan came in 1998 at the Maui Classic with the Utes winning 71-54. Last year, the Utes lost at Oklahoma 70-52.
'Big name' Utah home games
Under Jim Boylen
Under Ray Giacoletti
Colorado '06, '04,
Under Rick Majerus
Arizona State '02
Texas '01, '99, '96, '92
Washington State '00
Wake Forest '98, '96
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