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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon
Matt Piper and Kyle Goon cover University of Utah sports teams for The Salt Lake Tribune. Matt Piper is on twitter at @matthew_piper, Kyle Goon is on twitter at @kylegoon

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Utes prepare for Lillard, Weber State

The Utes have a chance to show how much they have actually improved Thursday at Weber State.

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Utah has won two games in a row, but we wouldn't quite describe Idaho State and Portland as prime competition. Then again, neither was Division II Adams State, which beat the Utes in an exhibition, or the Cal State-Fullerton Titans, architects of 31-point victory over Utah on Dec. 7 at the Huntsman Center.

Here's the nut: 3-8 Utah can end the preseason on a three-game winning streak with a win against the banged-up Wildcats. With a loss, well, winner of two of their last three would still look pretty good for the Utes after the way this season began. Weber State is 5-0 at home, while the Utes are 0-2 on the road, plus winless in three games played at neutral sites.

All hope the Utes have will start with containing Weber State point guard Damian Lillard, whom Tribune columnist Kurt Kragthorpe posited earlier this year could be The Next Jimmer.

Doubt it? Lillard leads the country in scoring at 25.7 points per game, and earlier this season scored 41 points against San Jose State.

Larry Krystkowiak was diplomatic in describing his plan for defending Lillard.

"About five guys are probably going to try," the first-year coach said.

Last year, Lillard scored 28 points in the Utes' 90-75 preseason win over the Wildcats.

"He's a great point guard," said Utes' point guard Josh "Jiggy" Watkins, who played against Lillard in 2010. "I like his game, me personally. It's a good matchup for me."

One would have to assume, though, that more than Watkins, the Utes best matchup against a scorer of Lillard's caliber is junior Cedric Martin. The transfer from Lee Community College is the Utes best one-on-one defender.

Martin on Wednesday said he was exciting about the opportunity to play against the country's best scorer.

"I love the challenge," Martin said. "It just makes you want to play defense more when you know you've got an offensive player ahead of you that's capable of doing anything. So, you try your hardest to stop him. Me, I want to stop him."

Lillard is the best the best individual player the Utes' have faced this season (Harvard point guard Brandyn Curry is probably second?).

"He has it both ways," Martin said. "He can do it with his right, he can do it with his left. Jump shot. Athletic. He has it all. He's like the total package. Plus, he has the hype."

Martin's strategy against Lillard?

"I don't want him to touch the ball."

Quote of the day • "I don't think I've won a game at the Purple Palace as a player or as a coach." — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak who, obviously, would like to reverse that trend. Krystkowiak played and coached in the Dee Events Center while with Montana, the Wildcats' Big Sky Conference rival.

— Bill Oram

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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