Kyle Kuzma's sprained ankle in Honolulu is memorable in Utah's recent basketball history, because of how the injury hurt the Utes' NCAA Tournament credentials.
The loss of Kuzma in a first-round game of the 2016 Diamond Head Classic altered the Utes' path in the tournament, as they fell to San Francisco in the opening round. Winning the consolation bracket didn’t do Utah much good, and that’s why Thursday night’s game vs. Hawaii in the Wooden Legacy is vital to the 2018-19 Utes.
Utah needs the scheduling impact of a potential meeting with Miami in Sunday's championship game of the eight-team event, played on the Cal State Fullerton campus. If they beat Hawaii, the Utes would meet the Grand Canyon-Seton Hall winner in Friday's semifinals.
“As much as you want to be in control of your schedule, it's really kind of the epitome of not being in control of your schedule,” coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “It happens pretty quickly in the course of four days.”
A three-game tournament accounts for a sizable portion of Utah’s nonconference schedule. The rest of the pre-January calendar included high-level teams Kentucky and Nevada and bottom-tier opponents such as Florida A&M and Northern Arizona. Other schools such as Tulsa and BYU are in between those extremes, and the same description applies to all of Utah’s potential opponents in Fullerton.
“We'll just learn a lot about who our team is,” senior guard Parker Van Dyke said. “We're in a good spot overall. We're constantly improving. Coach K always talks about it as a marathon; you've got to take one step at a time.”
As of Sunday, the Utes will have played half of their nonconference schedule. Even the first game, against Hawaii, will give Krystkowiak another gauge of Utah’s development. “I’ll know a lot more abut our team by the end of Thursday,” he said. “This whole thing’s about experiences.”
UTAH VS. HAWAII
At Titan Gym, Fullerton, Calif.
Tipoff: Thursday, 9:30 p.m. MST
Radio: ESPN 700.
Records: Utah 2-1; Hawaii 3-1.
Series history: Utah leads, 49-10.
Last meeting: Utah 80, Hawaii 60 (2017).
About the Utes: Utah tied a school record with 17 3-pointers in last Thursday’s 98-63 win over Mississippi Valley State. … The Utes hosted Hawaii last December; the teams also met in the Diamond Head Classic bracket in December 2016, when Utah won 66-52. … Utah will play Friday at 7 p.m. or 9:30 p.m.
About the Rainbow Warriors: Hawaii has beaten Portland (82-64), Humboldt State (90-54) and future Utah opponent Northern Arizona (90-54), while losing to North Texas (68-51), all at home. … Zigmars Raimo, a forward from Latvia, averages 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds, while shooting 68.6 percent from the field. … Drew Buggs contributes 8.0 points and 6.0 assists.