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Utah Runnin’ Utes got past the mystery of season opener, now forging ahead

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah's Timmy Allen as Utah hosts Washington, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

In a normal basketball season, the University of Utah would hold a public intrasquad scrimmage in mid-October at the Huntsman Center dubbed “Night With the Utes.”

The season opener would likely be against a low- or mid-major opponent at the Huntsman Center, and Utah could ease into things with higher-profile nonconference teams and a full Pac-12 schedule coming later.

This is not a normal basketball season.

None of those things happened. Instead, the Utes had a long offseason filled with COVID-19 testing, carefully-manicured medical protocols inside athletic facilities on campus, altered scheduling, a program-wide virus outbreak and still more altered scheduling.

Instead of easing into the season with a low- or mid-major in early-November, the Utes wound up opening on Dec. 3 against a Pac-12 opponent, the University of Washington.

“It’s been quite a long haul where we’re beating up on each other and you’re constantly looking at one of your teammates,” Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak said Monday afternoon on a Zoom call with reporters ahead of Tuesday’s game vs. Idaho State. “The first opportunity for us to play somebody in a different colored jersey, everybody would be lying if they said they were super comfortable about it. It’s part of the game that’s fun, the unknown.”

Given the Utes were coming off a COVID-19 outbreak, a 76-62 win over the Huskies, who were on fumes after losing a pair of neutral-court games in Las Vegas before arriving in Salt Lake City, went about as well as could be expected.

After a shaky first few minutes against Washington’s 2-3 zone defense, the Utes settled in. Seven guys played at least 17 minutes, while 12 saw playing time. Alfonso Plummer shot the ball well, Timmy Allen flashed his all-around game, freshman combo guard Pelle Larsson impressed in his collegiate debut. The Utes also defended at a level that is good enough to win a game on the majority of nights.

All told, Krystkowiak was encouraged with what he saw in the opener. Now, Utah will not take its foot off the gas, per se, but it can settle back into a nonconference schedule that will offer the aforementioned low- and mid-major opponents, beginning Tuesday against Idaho State.

The Bengals are 0-3, have not played since Nov. 28, had a Saturday game canceled when their opponent, NAIA Montana Western, reported COVID issues, and have not defeated a Power Five opponent since winning at Oregon on Dec. 3, 1986.

No one will admit to looking ahead, but beyond Tuesday, the Utes are at BYU in the 261st edition of one of the country’s underrated college basketball rivalries.

“I think there’s so much known in a practice setting, who you’re guarding, what they do, everybody has a little sense of being comfortable, and when you have a game, it gets the juices flowing,” Krystkowiak said. “There’s unknown, you don’t feel quite as comfortable and that’s what the competition is all about.”

Utah vs. Idaho State

At the Huntsman Center

Tipoff » 4 p.m.

TV » Pac-12 Networks (Todd Harris, play-by-play, Joe Cravens, analyst)

Radio » ESPN 700 (Bill Riley, play-by-play)

Records » Utah 1-0, Idaho State 0-3

Series » Utah leads, 26-4

About Utah » The Utes are coming off a season-opening win over Washington, 76-62, at the Huntsman Center. Senior guard Alfonso Plummer had a team-high 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting, while Timmy Allen added 14 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. … Allen is 88 points shy of becoming the 40th Utah player to score 1,000 for his career. He would be the 21st Ute to do so as a junior. … Utah is now 98-16 all-time in home-openers, and 78-13 when the home-opener also acts as the season-opener. … The Utes had seven guys play at least 17 minutes against Washington, paced by Allen and sophomore point guard Rylan Jones each playing 32 minutes.

About Idaho State » The Bengals last played on Nov. 28, a 70-61 neutral-court loss at UC Davis, then had Saturday night’s home game against Montana Western canceled due to COVID-19 issues with the visitor. … Including the UC Davis loss, Idaho State is 0-3, with the other two losses to Nicholls State and Santa Clara. … The Bengals have lost five straight to the Utes, most recently in Salt Lake City on Nov. 27, 2015, a 102-72 Utes win. … Idaho State has not beaten a Power Five team since Dec. 3, 1986, a 62-57 win at the University of Oregon.

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