SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah basketball team takes on Oklahoma Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the Huntsman Center, it will be facing a team that looks a lot like the Michigan team it defeated Wednesday night.
The Sooners will start four outside players and a post player like the Wolverines, who were beaten 68-52 by the Utes, in a close game that looked like a rout due to a late flurry of Ute points.
However, Oklahoma is a better team, according to Utah coach Jim Boylen, even if it doesn't have an NBA first-round prospect like Michigan's Manny Harris, who burned his team for 25 points.
"They're a more athletic team with speed and quickness," said Boylen. "We'll have a height and length advantage, but we have to guard speed, quickness and shooting."
The Sooners, who have won four straight, are led by Willie Warren, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who averages 18.6 points per game, and Tony Crocker, a 6-6 senior who averages 13.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. Crocker is coming off a career-high 33-point, 13-rebound game against Centenary, when he made seven 3-pointers and 29 points in the first half alone.
Other starters include 6-9, 290-pound freshman Tiny Gallon (12.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg), junior guard Cade Davis (7.0 ppg) and freshman guard Tommy Mason-Griffin (9.4 ppg).
As much as he worries about the Sooners' athleticism, Boylen is concerned about his own team's mentality. The Utes' coach has always stressed handling success the right way, and he's tried his best to see that his team doesn't lose focus after its big win three days ago.
"We're growing," he said. "I thought we grew in our trust Wednesday night and we did two things we have to do to win — rebound and get the loose balls. When you dive on a loose ball, you make it about the team, and we did that Wednesday."
Playing two teams from big conferences is exciting for the Utes and their fans, but the players say they have to keep it in perspective.
"I think our mentality has to be, no matter who our competition is, we have to have the same motivation," said David Foster. "It needs to be consistent."
The Utes know they must be more consistent after beating teams like Michigan and Illinois, while losing to Idaho and Seattle at home.
"It's exciting for us and for the fans to come out and watch, but you play every game to win," said Carlon Brown. "We can't buy into the hype of another team just because of their name. We play basketball to win every day. Yeah, it's a part of the schedule that's tough, but at the same time, we've got to play our game and we know we can win."
Besides Brown (12.7 ppg) and Foster (6.4 ppg), the Utes will start Kim Tillie (9.6 ppg), Marshall Henderson (10.7 ppg) and Luka Drca (9.1 ppg).
The Utes' next game will be Dec. 19 against Illinois State as the players will have extra time off next week for final exams.
UTE NOTES: Foster ranks No. 6 in the country in blocked shots with 3.9 per game. ... Last year in Norman, the Sooners cruised to a 70-52 victory in a game when All-American Blake Griffin had 11 points and 11 rebounds, but didn't score a field goal. ... This will be the fourth meeting between the two schools, with Oklahoma holding a 2-1 series edge. The Utes' only win came in 2005 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament behind the play of Andrew Bogut and Justin Hawkins. ... In the other game between the two schools, OU won 69-68 in 1979 against a Ute team that included Tom Chambers, Danny Vranes and Karl Bankowski.
Utes on the air
Utah (5-4) vs. Oklahoma (6-3)
Today, 2 p.m.
Radio: 700 AM