One game doesn’t a season make, but it’s a couple of quality teams there and we’re excited. It certainly beats the alternative to that happening. —Larry Krystkowiak
LAS VEGAS — As a reward for knocking off one group of undefeated Rebels, the unbeaten Utah Utes get a shot at another bunch of Rebels Wednesday. Two days after an 83-74 win over Mississippi, they take on UNLV for the “heavyweight division” title Wednesday (10:30 p.m., ESPN2) in the MGM Resorts Main Event at T-Mobile Arena.
“I know they’re a good team. We’re going to be playing in their hometown,” said Utah guard Justin Bibbins. “It’s going to be a real road game. So it’s going to be a good test for us.”
Bibbins topped all scorers with 23 points in the win over Ole Miss. The graduate transfer from Long Beach State made five 3-point shots on a night when he said things “just happened for me.”
The coaches, Bibbins explained, told him to “always be ready, be ready for the moment.” Then it came.
David Collette and Donnie Tillman added 13 points apiece, while Sedrick Barefield finished with 12. Tyler Rawson contributed nine points and 10 rebounds as the Utes improved to 4-0 on the season.
“We’ve got a nice little rotation and we’ve depended on different people,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who added that he likes to compare a college basketball season to a marathon.
“Each game is a little less than a mile,” he explained. “I’ve never known anybody to win a marathon on the fourth mile.”
However, Krystkowiak is pleased with the start. Besides beating Prairie View A&M and Mississippi Valley State, Utah now has back-to-back wins over Missouri and Mississippi from the SEC.
“One game doesn’t a season make, but it’s a couple of quality teams there and we’re excited,” Krystkowiak said. “It certainly beats the alternative to that happening.”
Krystkowiak trusts that the team will stay grounded, continue to work and be locked in. Contributors have varied.
“That’s kind of the essence of the team. That’s what I really like about our guys. They’re genuinely all engaged and there will be some different guys on different nights,” Krystkowiak continued. “But everybody’s got to get ready because it is a marathon, it’s an awful long race.”
Although the Utes didn’t exactly spring away from Ole Miss, they did take the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Parker Van Dyke with 3:42 to play in the first half. The shot put them on top 34-32.
Utah led 40-37 at halftime and went on a 9-0 run shortly after the break to gain some breathing room. Krystkowiak said the team had a “little chit-chat” before the second half and righted some wrongs. He wasn’t pleased with 50/50 balls, rebounding, “mindless turnovers” and “crappy shots.”
The corrections, though, didn’t put the game away completely. Ole Miss proved to be a tough out. The Rebels rallied from an 11-point deficit to make it 71-69 with 4:20 left to play.
Utah scored the next five points to remain ahead. Ole Miss failed to get any closer than three the rest of the way.
Krystkowiak called the win a “nice test” for the Utes and a quality win.
Now comes another exam. UNLV is 4-0 after a 95-68 win over Rice earlier in the evening. Brandon McCoy scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Rebels.
“I know they’re high-powered and they virtually have a home game with some enthusiasm in the building,” Krystkowiak said. “So it’s going to be a heck of a challenge.”
UNLV (4-0) vs. Utah (4-0)
T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. (MT)
Radio: ESPN 700AM