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Utah playing Mississippi Valley State — again — for its home opener

SHARE Utah playing Mississippi Valley State — again — for its home opener
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The Utah Utes bench cheer for a three pointer from the sidelines at he end of the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils game in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. Utah won 98-63.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak laughed when asked if Mississippi Valley State has become the Utes’ latest rival in basketball. After all, the Utes are playing the Delta Devils for the third straight year Friday night (7 p.m. Huntsman Center).

“It’s more of a coincidence that anything,” Krystkowiak said. “I know the coach (Lindsey Hunter) from my NBA days, but it’s not a friendship where we decided to play or anything. There’s nothing to it.”

He said Mississippi Valley State likes to “go on the road and play some guarantee games.” How about a lot. Mississippi Valley State will not play any home games in the preseason with 12 straight road games before opening Southwestern Athletic Conference play on Jan. 4 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Two years ago, the Delta Devils played BYU and Utah State on a three-game western trip and last year played Utah State again. The Utes won both games against the Delta Devils, 91-51 in 2017-18 and 98-63 last year.

This year, however, Utah is the only western team on the school’s opening road trip, which took them to Iowa State (a 110-74 loss) Tuesday before they play at Central Michigan on Sunday.

“It’s more of a coincidence that anything. I know the coach (Lindsey Hunter) from my NBA days, but it’s not a friendship where we decided to play or anything. There’s nothing to it.” — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak on playing Mississippi Valley State for the third straight year

The Utes are coming off an opening 79-74 road victory over Nevada on Tuesday night as Timmy Allen and Both Gach led the scoring with 23 and 22 points, respectively. Freshman Branden Carlson had 10 rebounds as the Utah won the rebounding battle 51-32.

Before the season, Krystkowiak said his team would use a “three-headed” center with three freshmen — Carlson, Lahat Thioune and Matt Van Komen — sharing the position. The 7-foot-4 Van Komen didn’t play Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to redshirt, according to Krystkowiak.  

“We love what Matt’s doing. We’ve had two separate weeks of practice where he’s been the most efficient player on our team,” Krystkowiak said. “I anticipate those three guys tag-teaming it pretty well over the course of the year.”

After Friday’s game, the Utes will take a week off from games before playing Minnesota at home on Nov. 15.