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Utes honor Jon M. Huntsman with pregame, halftime ceremonies — and a victory

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s game with Stanford Thursday night had a bit of somberness to it since it was the Utes’ first home game since Jon M. Huntsman passed away last week. Huntsman has been a big part of Utah athletics for decades and the Ute arena was named after him 30 years ago after one of his many generous donations.

Prior to the game, a brief video tribute of Huntsman was shown before his memory was honored with a moment of silence. The Ute players and coaches wore patches on their jerseys, a red “JH” in a circle with “1937-2018” below it.

Huntsman’s familiar front-row seat was draped with a white Utah jersey 1 along with a ribbon and a framed picture of Huntsman below it.

At halftime, the lights were dimmed for a “Huntsman Strong” presentation after which there was a Teddy Bear Toss centered around Cancer Awareness with hundreds of teddy bears tossed on the floor.

“It’s more than a one-game deal for us,” said coach Larry Krystkowiak. “This season is dedicated to him and beyond that for me personally. I mean this from the bottom of my heart — I’ve been around 53 years, I’ve looked up to a lot of people and I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of people and I don’t think there anybody that’s had more of an impact on me.”

Krystkowiak rattled off a bunch of positive traits of Huntsman and added, "I know he’s not here physically, but I know this was the house that Jon built and we’re going to try to pass a lot of those positive traits forward."

Senior David Collette said Huntsman had “an unconditional love for everybody” and that the team enjoyed having dinner at his home each year and seeing him cheering them on.

“He was such a great guy, it’s hard to lose him and see him go,” Collette said. “We did it for him tonight and for the rest of the season.”

TILLMAN SITS OUT: Freshman forward Donnie Tillman, who had started four games earlier this year, sat out the game in street clothes on the bench. Tillman had missed six games in the middle of the season with a leg injury, but according to his coach, it was a combination of reasons he didn’t play Thursday.

“He needs a little getaway, a break,” said Krystkowiak “He’s got a lot going on and I’ve said many times, for a freshman it’s not easy. A combination of getting some classwork squared away and his body squared away and hopefully he’ll be back here with us pretty quick."

Krystkowiak emphasized that it wasn’t a disciplinary issue with Tillman at all.

“It’s somewhat of a private issue and I’m not going to get into it,” he said. “We’re going to get through it together. Everybody needs to pray for Donnie and pull for him and know that we’ve all got challenges. We’re here to help him and get him through it.”

UTE NOTES: The Utes come back Saturday night for a game against Cal at 7:30 p.m. . . . Most members of the 1997-98 Ute team will be on hand to be honored in a halftime ceremony. The players will also be available before the game to sign autographs from 6 to 7 p.m. . . . The home games this weekend are the only regular-season game against Stanford and Cal with no road games to northern California this season because of the 18-game Pac-12 schedule. The two teams the Utes played on the road, but won’t face at home are Oregon and Oregon State . . . The Pac-12 tournament begins on March 7 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas . . . Utah is now 6-5 all-time against the Cardinal and 5-1 at home since the school joined the league in 2011. Overall, Utah is 20-13 against Stanford.