PULLMAN, Wash. — Utah's next opponent isn't your typical 11th-place team. Sure, Washington State has a lot of losses —15 to be exact, including nine in Pac-12 play. The Cougars, though, are playing extremely well as of late. Over the past couple of weeks, they swept the Arizona-Arizona State road trip, nearly upset conference-leading Washington, and knocked off Colorado.
"They're playing as well as anybody in the conference right now," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak.
Bolstered by the return of Pac-12 scoring leader Robert Franks, who missed the first three conference games because of injury, Washington State is making some noise despite falling out of contention early. The recent surge includes a 91-70 win at Arizona State, a 69-55 triumph at Arizona, a 72-70 loss to Washington on a late tip-in, and a 76-74 victory over Colorado on Wednesday.
Franks, a 6-foot-9 forward, enters the game with Utah averaging 22.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. The senior didn't play in the Utes' 88-70 win over Washington State in January.
"He's one of the best players in our conference," said Utah senior Parker Van Dyke. "He's a guy with some serious length and some height. He can really shoot it and can really score.
"They're not only a different team with him, but they're all playing much better these last few weeks," he continued. "So this will not be the same team we played in Salt Lake."
As such, there's nothing easy about this matchup — or any otter for that matter.
"I think all teams are very competitive right now and we're all fighting for a better spot within the Pac-12 Tournament," said Van Dyke, who noted that another road game will be a challenge. "But, I think we'll be ready to play."
The Utes (14-12, 8-6) are coming off a dismal 62-45 loss at Washington on Wednesday. They shot 28 percent from the field and went nearly 16 minutes without a basket at one point against the highly successful zone defense employed by the Huskies.8 comments on this story
"We don't have that mentality where our play is going to drop off because we had a tough game," said senior guard Sedrick Barefield. "It's kind of just stay in the moment, stay ready and compete every game. So we're in good spirits."
EXTRA STUFF: Utah is 24-4 all-time against Washington State, including a 6-2 mark in Pullman. … The Utes have defeated the Cougars 10 straight times dating back to 2014. … Freshman forward Timmy Allen is still "day-to-day" with a back issue. He did not play in the loss at Washington.
Utah (14-12, 8-6) at Washington State (11-15, 4-9)
Beasley Coliseum — Pullman, Wash.
Saturday, 6 p.m. (MT)
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700AM