Utah Utes basketball: U. anxious to get crack at Arizona

first_img Related Utah Utes basketball game day MIAMI — After some relaxation Wednesday and still another good practice Thursday, the Utah basketball team is ready to roll.The Utes meet Arizona today in a 5:10 p.m. NCAA Tournament first-round game at the American Airlines Arena. The winner plays the Wake Forest-Cleveland State winner Sunday afternoon.The oddsmakers have listed this as a pick’em game, a little bit to the Utes’ chagrin and to the Wildcats’ surprise.Utah coach Jim Boylen has said all week he doesn’t mind being a No. 5-seed underdog, although you can tell it’s giving him and his team some extra motivation. “We’ve been facing that stuff all year,” Boylen said. “All I can tell you is we’ll be ready to play.” On the other hand, Arizona’s first-year “interim” coach Russ Pennell is doing his best to talk folks out of making his team the favorite, calling Utah “a really, really good team that I think is underrated.” A lot of experts were critical of Arizona even being given a berth in the NCAA Tournament, yet many of those same experts are picking the Wildcats to win tonight, which leaves Pennell scratching his head. “It’s amazing people are critical of us being in, and then they fill out their bracket and they move us forward,” he said. “(Utah) may not be well-known because of their lack of national exposure, but believe me, any coach that’s seen them on tape or has played against them knows how good they are. We’ve got our work cut out for us tomorrow evening.”Arizona’s Chase Budinger says, “They’ve got the No. 5 seed for a reason. They had a great year, and they’re a good team. And even though people are saying that this is an upset-type game, we’re not letting that get to us at all because we know that Utah is a very good team. We’re not going to overlook them at all.”Budinger is one of a pair of Wildcats who could be possible NBA lottery picks, The other is 6-foot-10 forward Jordan Hill, who is listed as a top-5 pick on many mock draft lists.Hill will go against Utah’s Luke Nevill, whom Boylen calls a lottery pick also. Hill says Nevill will be the biggest player he’s every played against and said, “It’s going to be a good challenge for me and a good challenge for him.”Besides Hill (18.5 ppg) and Budinger (17.9 ppg), the Wildcats’ other key player is 5-10 point guard Nic Wise (15.1 ppg). Otherwise, the Wildcats have two freshmen starters and a thin bench. That’s where the Utes may have an edge with seven players who play a lot of minutes, including Shaun Green and Tyler Kepkay off the bench.The Utes practiced at Florida International University Wednesday afternoon after having lunch down at Coconut Grove. The practice went so well, Boylen canceled practice Thursday morning and just had the required practice at the arena in the afternoon. “We have practiced as good and as hard as we have since I’ve been the coach here the last 10 to 12 days,” Boylen said. “It’s been that way here, too. Guys were focused; communication was at a high level. I feel good about where we’re at.”Despite all that, Boylen knows his team must still be ready tonight.”All that stuff is great, but you’ve got to go out, strap it on and play the game.” GAME NOTES: Unlike most other NCAA venues, there won’t be anything close to a sellout at American Airlines Arena, where the Miami Heat play. The upper bowl behind the basket and part of the upper deck on the sides are draped with a huge black curtain, probably to keep empty seats from showing up on television. … There won’t be a lot of Ute fans present for the game. According to Zack Lassiter, who is charge of tickets for U., his school only sold about 200 tickets, mostly to friends and family of Ute players and to some high-end donors. … The other games Friday here are Syracuse-Stephen F. Austin at 10:15 a.m. MDT, Arizona State-Temple at 12:30 p.m. MDT and Wake Forest-Cleveland State at 7:40 p.m. MDT.Utes on the airUtah (24-9) vs. Arizona (19-13)American Airlines Arena, MiamiFriday: 5:10 p.m.TV: Ch. 2; Radio: 700 AME-mail: [email protected]last_img

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