Do or die for the Utes in Denver

Play every game like it’s your last. For the U basketball team, this statement may just be true, since one loss would probably mean the Utes would miss out on the NCAA tournament.

The road to the MWC Championship for the Utes will probably have to go through BYU and Air Force, but first Utah will have to deal with San Diego State in the opening round.

Not only will this be third time the Utes are facing the Aztecs, but it will also be the second consecutive game, as the Utes defeated the Aztecs 66-53 in the season finale.

San Diego State is on a three game losing streak after losing at home to Utah by 13 points, and is looking to win the first-round matchup against the Utes.

“I am firmly of the opinion that we are going to play exceptionally good basketball against Utah and, if we do that, we’ll have a great opportunity to win,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said.

Although the Utes won by a considerable margin on the road, the Aztecs came close to downing the Utes in the Huntsman Center.

But the main difference in the two games was the guard play for the Aztecs. Even though the two guards, Wesley Stokes and Brandon Heath, did not shoot well in the first matchup between the two teams, they both scored in double figures.

In the season finale, Heath finished with eight points while Stokes had five.

The leading scorer on the team, Aerick Sanders, was on fire in the season finale, but foul trouble really hurt the big man and his team.

“We were down one point when Aerick went to the bench with his third foul with 4:30 to go in the first half, and they went [on runs of] 9-0 [and] 11-2 to finish the half,” Fisher said.

Sanders finished the game with 20 points and 12 rebounds, but his effort was offset by the play of Ute senior Tim Frost.

Frost finished the game with 19 points, shooting 8 of-10 from the field. Frost and freshman Andrew Bogut pose the biggest threat because of the lack of size on the Aztec front line.

“We have to get them out of position early,” Sanders said. “They are bigger than us, so we have to move them off the block immediately. In the game, sometimes we settled just playing behind them instead of attempting to front, which was the game plan. I think after we see on tape how our defensive rotation was late, and our help-side defense was late, that we will recognize that those little things will be the difference in winning and losing.”

The fact that the two teams are playing each other in consecutive games means that each team will be more aware of what the opposing team is trying to do.

“I think playing soon is an advantage, but they are probably thinking the same way,” Sanders said.

“By this time, everybody knows everybody’s tendencies, plays and out-of-bounds plays,” he added.

Regardless of the knowledge the teams have of each other, the Utes are the more talented team, but Fisher believes that this game will be close.

“I believe that with three minutes to go, we’re going to have a chance to win,” he said.

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