It is one of the oddities of the truncated, pandemic-altered 2020-21 college basketball schedule for the Utah Utes.
They faced Pac-12 foe Washington in their season opener last week, and routed the weary Huskies 76-62 at the Huntsman Center, and will face the Big Sky Conference’s Idaho State on Tuesday afternoon before their rivalry game Saturday in Provo against BYU.
Tuesday’s game tips off at 4 p.m. and will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.
Will the Runnin’ Utes (1-0) get caught looking ahead to the 261st meeting with the Cougars (4 p.m., BYUtv) when the 0-3 Bengals come to town?
“I don’t think anybody is thinking that far (ahead) yet,” said Utah sophomore forward Mikael Jantunen. “We are trying to go a day at a time, and first we are going to take care of business tomorrow and play a good game. Then we can look forward to what is next.”
BYU (5-1) hosts Boise State on Wednesday before it can turn its attention to the Utes, who downed the Cougars 102-95 in overtime last season in Salt Lake City in one of the more memorable clashes in the heated series.
Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said, as of Monday afternoon, the Utes were expecting to have every player available, after COVID-19 issues swept through the program the weeks before Thanksgiving. Idaho State was supposed to host Western Montana last Saturday, but the game was canceled due to “COVID-related issues with the visiting team,” according to an ISU news release.
“Guys are doing a really good job of taking care of themselves and keeping out of harm’s way. I believe it has gotten everybody’s attention pretty quick. It has affected a lot of programs around the country,” said Krystkowiak, who had COVID-19 late last month. “I am confident in our team and hopefully the Bengals have the same thing going on coming in here.”
Asked in a Zoom meeting Monday if the Utes would be able to focus on ISU’s visit with a more important game just around the corner, Krystkowiak brushed off the suggestion that it was even a possibility, instead complaining about an unsatisfactory practice held earlier in the day.
“It is not like we are trying to play any Jedi mind games and say, ‘Hey, the bigger game of the two is BYU,’” he said. “Because as practice went today, we are going to have a hard time beating a lot of people if we don’t get a lot more fundamentally sound. And that’s where we need to start building. I think, an identity. … We can’t beat ourselves.”
The coach was unhappy with unforced turnovers and shoddy defensive rebounding, to name a few shortcomings. He was happy that the Utes set a record in a team shooting game that Krystkowiak “stole from a coach in Australia” at the beginning of practice.
“I felt really good about the first third of practice, and then it went downhill from there,” he said.
Jantunen, who made his first career start against the Huskies and had 10 points and eight rebounds, said Idaho State will present a different challenge than Washington, after the Huskies played their trademark zone defense for all 40 minutes.
As for the high ankle sprain that cut into his preseason preparation time, Jantunen said it is “doing a lot better,” but still isn’t completely healed.
As for Idaho State, the visitors will be playing their fourth-straight road game, having lost to Santa Clara, Nicholls State and UC Davis before the weekend’s cancellation.
The Bengals have 13 newcomers this year, and just three players from last year’s roster who saw action — seniors Tarik Cool and Malik Porter and junior Austin Smellie. They accounted for almost half of the squad’s scoring last year, combining for 997 points.
Idaho State’s roster includes one Utahn — 6-foot-9 freshman center Zach Visentin of Springville. The Deseret News’ 5A MVP last year is averaging 10.7 minutes and 3.3 points per game so far.
“When you have a game, it is kind of fun,” Krystkowiak said. “It gets the juices going, there is some unknown, and you don’t feel quite as comfortable, and that is what competition is all about. ... Every team brings a different package to the table. … Everybody this year has a lot less film (for scouting).”