Twenty-one years ago, the Utah basketball team was supposed to play Michigan in its annual Utah Classic. The Utes had a first-round game against Holy Cross and the Wolverines played Division II Alaska-Anchorage, coached by Ron Abegglen. It seemed all set up for a Utah-Michigan final.
After all, this was the Michigan team that went on to win the NCAA Championship later in the year behind Glen Rice and Rumeal Robinson and interim coach Steve Fisher. However, at the Huntsman Center that December night, the unbeaten, No. 2-ranked Wolverines couldn't get past Alaska-Anchorage, losing 70-66 and preventing a Utah-Michigan matchup after the Utes won their game.
Tonight, the Utes and Wolverines will finally meet at the Huntsman Center when they tip off at 7 p.m.
This isn't an unbeaten, nationally-ranked team coming to town, but it is a talented, veteran team that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago and was ranked as high as No. 15 earlier in the season.
Utah coach Jim Boylen says he's very familiar with the Wolverines from a recruiting standpoint from the days when he was an assistant at Michigan State, especially with senior forward DeShawn Sims and junior guard Manny Harris, who both hail from Detroit. He said Michigan's style, with four guards and a forward, will give Utah's more traditional style of a center, two forwards and two guards, some problems.
"They have an interesting style with a spacing five-man in Deshawn Sims," Boylen said. "They stretch the defense with their shooting and their athleticism and are very difficult to guard. Sims can make 3s and drive the ball from the five position."
On the other hand, Michigan coach John Beilen is worried about the Utes' superior height with 7-foot-3 David Foster, 6-11 Kim Tillie and 7-foot Jason Washburn.
"They're huge," he told Ann Arbor.com. "We're talking 7-3, 7-foot, 6-11 skilled players. We will not see size like this the entire year, so we are just adapting to that."
To adapt, the Wolverines may use 6-10 senior Zack Gibson at the same time as Sims.
"You can mismatch and hope for the best or you can match them and hope for the best," Beilein said. "So I think we'll have both of those concepts ready to go."
The Utes have gone against smaller teams and have been outrebounded in five of eight games, so that will be a focus tonight.
After tonight's game, the Utes will face on Oklahoma Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Huntsman Center.
UTE NOTES: Washburn didn't practice for a week due to a concussion, but started practicing Monday and could play. ... Michigan holds a 4-2 edge in the all-time series. The last time they played each other in Salt Lake in 1969, the first year the Huntsman Center was opened, Utah won 117-102. ... The Utes are 1-0 against the Big Ten this year, having beaten Illinois 60-58 in Las Vegas last month. ... Utah is just 2-2 at home this year. ... The Utes have a week off after the Oklahoma game before playing Illinois State on Dec. 19.
Utes on the air
Michigan (4-3) at Utah (4-4)
Tonight, 7 p.m., Huntsman Center
TV: CBS-C; Radio: 700 AM