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Johnsen making the trip but still unlikely to play

Britton Johnsen will be going to Nashville after all. He just isn't likely to play in Friday's NCAA first-round game against Oregon.

Johnsen had a ticket for Wednesday afternoon and was to join his teammates in the evening.

"I'm not playing Friday unless a miracle happens," said Johnsen Tuesday night from his home in Salt Lake. "My spleen didn't go down hardly at all (between last week and Monday)."

Johnsen, who has infectious mononucleosis, has an enlarged spleen and needs it to subside before he can be cleared to play.

So why is Johnsen going to Nashville?

Two reasons. One, he wants to be with his teammates and cheer them on against Oregon. "I really want to be with the team," he said. "This could be my last road trip."

Two, he wants another shot at Kentucky.

Johnsen, you'll remember, played in the NCAA Championship game in 1998 when the Utes were beaten by Kentucky 78-69. While Johnsen says the chances aren't good he can play against Oregon, with two extra days, he might be healthy enough by Sunday to play against the Wildcats, should the Utes win Friday.

However, he admits he may not be very effective since he's only done light jogging over the last few days.

"It's been very frustrating," he said. "You dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament and all of a sudden this happens. I'm taking my uniform and hopefully, I'll be taking it out of my bag."

IT HAPPENED BEFORE: Not having Johnsen will obviously hurt the Utes, but they faced similar problems with injuries the last time they won an NCAA game in 2000.

That was the year Hanno Mottola battled injuries all season and Adam Sharp couldn't play in the NCAA Tournament because of a bad ankle. Also Nate Althoff had a bad back and played limited minutes, Mike Puzey had a bad foot and Jeremy Killion suffered a knee injury in the first-round game with Saint Louis and missed the second game against Michigan State.

OLD NEMESIS: Many Ute fans were stunned, though really not surprised when Utah was put in a bracket where it would have to play old nemesis Kentucky in the second round. After all, the Utes had faced the Wildcats four times previously in NCAA Tournaments between 1993 and 1998.

Most folks forget, however, that the Utes would also have played Kentucky in 1999 in the third round, if they hadn't been upset by Miami (Ohio). Also in 2000, Kentucky was placed in the same eight-team pod as the Utes and the two would have met in the third round, if both hadn't lost in the second round.

Last year, Kentucky was on the opposite side of the bracket and the only way the two teams would have met would have been in the NCAA finals, like 1998.

TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY: The point is moot now that the NCAA has announced the tournament will go on regardless of whether a war in Iraq begins in the next few days.

However, before the announcement, Utah coach Rick Majerus weighed in on whether or not the tournament should be played in case of war.

"If there's a ground assault, we should cancel the games because someone's going to die," said Majerus. "If it's a ground assault, then it's a legitimate, declared war and we should cancel the games out of respect for those people who are going to die. I would say that even if we were contending for the national championship."

Majerus said he spent the weekend in Las Vegas with some old friends from junior high school and they discussed the probability of war and how they'd feel if one of their own kids should die in a war.

"I have a hard time with it, because there's so many people, even from here, who are going to war," he said.

NCAA NOTES: Before last year's first-round loss to Indiana, Majerus was a perfect 8-0 at Utah in first round NCAA games. Last year was also the first time Majerus' Utes weren't the higher seed in a first-round game . . . Tipoff time against Oregon Friday is 1 p.m., or 30 minutes after the completion of the Kentucky-IUPUI game, which starts at 10:30 a.m . . . If the Utes win Friday, they'll play Sunday at 3 p.m. . . . Ute center Tim Frost knows all about Oregon, as a native of Klamath Falls, Ore. He attended the University of Portland for two years before transferring. Oregon was interested in the 6-10 center, but he chose to come to Utah . . . Frost leads the Utes in scoring at 13.1, just ahead of Nick Jacobson at 12.9 . . . Including this year, Utah ranks tied for 13th all-time in NCAA Tournament appearances (24) and tied for 12th in NCAA Tournament games played (58) . . . This marks the fourth time Utah has been assigned to the Midwest Region in NCAA Tournament play. The Utes were also in that bracket in 1996, playing in Dallas, in 1999 (New Orleans), and again in 2000 (Cleveland). When the Utes played in Nashville in 1993, it was called the Southeast Region.