Utah’s rehabilitation from the worst basketball season in school history begins on Friday night at the Huntsman Center.
On the surface, Division III opponent Willamette should provide easy fodder for the Utes. The Bearcats are an undersized team without the quickness or athleticism of the Pac-12 teams Utah will see nightly in a few months.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a case of nerves around the Huntsman Center offices. Larry Krystkowiak wants to see some proof that an overhauled roster will be competitive and that this team can take care of business. Most of all, he wants wins and progress. And he wants the first step to come against the Bearcats.
“We’re all anxious to get the season started,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s been a long process. We’ve had long practices, scrimmages and an exhibition. It’s time to start things for real and to see where we’re at and how far we have to go.”
Utah preaches balance on both ends of the floor. Last week against Simon Fraser, the Utes received just that, placing four players in double digits as Utah defeated the Clan, 71-36. In that exhibition victory, the Utes looked overpowering in the rebounding battle.
Several Utes also played well off the bench, with sophomore center Dallin Bachynski leading all scorers with 16 points.
Krystkowiak would like to see that carry over into Friday. There have been rough spots in the preseason, such as a bad, losing scrimmage against Montana State two weeks ago. But the Utes appear to have improved since then.
How much so may not be known until Utah plays a more competitive team, such as BYU, in early December. For comparison’s sake, the Utes lost their exhibition game last season to Adams State, then barely squeaked past San Diego Christian College 58-55 in their season opener.
In that sense, Utah is already performing better than it did a year ago at this time. But the Utes will be short-handed for the opener.
Shooting guard Jarred DuBois has been scratched because of a hip injury and is out for at least a week. DuBois had replaced Aaron Dotson (foot injury) in the starting lineup.
Willamette at Utah
P At the Huntsman Center
Tipoff • 7 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network. Radio • 700 AM
Series history • Utah leads 1-0
Last meeting • Utah 41, Willamette 23 (Dec. 17, 1941)
About the Bearcats • Willamette was 5-20 last season and is a Division III school. ... Terrell Malley is the top returning scorer for the Bearcats. He averaged 12.2 pointer per game last season. ... Willamette competes in the Northwest Conference. ... The Bearcats’ tallest player is 6-foot-6. ... The two schools will be meeting for the second time in 70 seasons.
About the Utes • Utah begins the season with five players 6-10 or taller. ... Aaron Dotson is expected to miss all of November with a stress fracture in his foot. ... Utah will attempt to win its second straight season opener under Krystkowiak. ... The Utes finished 6-9 at home last season. ... Utah will play a minimum of 28 televised games this season.