SALT LAKE CITY — Although they might not look like tough teams because of where they’re projected to finish in their respective conferences, the three teams playing Utah this weekend in a round-robin Thanksgiving tournament will give the Utes a variety of styles to help them in future games.
Wednesday’s opponent, Idaho State, is a defensive-minded team that likes to slow down the game and create fewer possessions. Friday’s opponent, Central Michigan, is an up-tempo team that likes to push the ball, while Wright State, the Saturday opponent, is a mixture of the other two.
All the Utes are worried about right now, however, is Idaho State, which plays the Utes at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Huntsman Center.
The Bengals’ coach is former Southern Utah coach Bill Evans, who coached the T-Birds for 15 years up until 2007. Since then he has been an assistant to Wayne Tinkle at Montana before getting the Idaho State job last March.
Evans was known for his zone defenses when he coached at SUU, and he has brought a defensive mentality to the ISU program.
So far the Bengals have shown they are a good defensive team in a pair of close road losses. After losing to Utah State 56-48 in their opener, they followed with a 51-48 loss to Portland.
“We’re going to have to be disciplined and not get into a slowdown mode,’’ said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “We have to know when they’re coming at us and we’ve got to be ready to guard for 25 seconds. We have to complete possessions, which we didn’t do a good job of the other night.’’
The other night was a 74-71 loss to another Big Sky team, Sacramento State, a game in which the Utes led by 13 with just over 11 minutes to play. The Utes know they need to solve some issues from that game.
“We need to rebound better and get back in transition,’’ said center Dallin Bachynski. “We have to execute the entire game, not just three quarters. We need to finish games.’’
“When it gets down to crunch time, guys like myself need to do a better job of keeping everybody poised,’’ said Jarred DuBois, a senior who transferred from Loyola Marymount. “I personally don’t think I showed enough leadership to keep us poised and keep the lead. Hopefully next time I’ll do a better job.’’
The Bengals are struggling a bit on offense, shooting just 40 percent from the field and 46.5 percent from the free throw line. They are also getting out-rebounded by 11 boards per game.
Melvin Morgan leads the team with a 14.0 average, followed by Chris Hansen at 11.5 ppg.
Before the Utes and Bengals game, Central Michigan and Wright State will tip it off at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The Utes will play Central Michigan Friday at 5 p.m. and then play Wright State Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Aaron Dotson, the junior transfer from LSU, who has been out with a stress fracture in his foot for about a month, is almost ready to return to the Ute lineup. As for returning this weekend, Krystkowiak said, “It isn’t anticipated, but I haven’t ruled it out."
This marks the first time since 1988 that the Utes have played host to an early-season tournament.
Utah leads the series with ISU 23-4 and last year beat the Bengals 71-59 for one of its six wins.