Northern exposure

While the women’s basketball team will spend Thanksgiving on the islands, the men’s team will be in the tundra.

A Turkey Day showdown with No. 22 Washington awaits the Runnin’ Utes Thursday night at 8 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN 2, as part of the Great Alaska Shootout.

“I think we’re ready,” Ute guard Marc Jackson said about the Washington game after the win against Stony Brook on Friday. “We’re excited about this offense. It’s going to be great.”

The Utes are one of eight teams in the tournament. Joining them are Washington, Alabama, Furman, High Point, Minnesota, Oklahoma and the host Alaska-Anchorage.

The Huskies are one of the rising college basketball programs. After a disastrous start to last season, including a blowout home loss to in-state rival Gonzaga, there was talk about head coach Lorenzo Romar losing his job.

That seems unthinkable now, with Washington turning its season around in a drastic way, including three wins over Pac-10 power Arizona and an NCAA tournament bid. The Huskies lost in the first round when they played the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

Romar followed up the surprising season with the best recruiting haul in school history, including the signing of one of the best high school players in the country, Martell Webster.

The top returning threat for the men from Montlake is 5-foot-9-inch Nate Robinson. The high-flying diminutive guard averaged 13.2 points a game as a sophomore last season, and briefly flirted with entering the NBA draft.

Robinson is one of five returning starters on a team that still has only one senior in the starting lineup.

The quick Huskies will have to match up with a bigger Ute team. Sophomore center Andrew Bogut was in top form against Stony Brook, putting in 16 points and 10 rebounds. The Olympian will square off against a small Washington lineup, one featuring no starters who are taller than 6 feet 8 inches.

In his first Ute game in more than a full year, Jackson played like he had never left. The only Ute senior had 20 points on four-for-five shooting, getting the Utes out of a few tough spots against a pesky Seawolf team.

This will be a reunion of sorts for Ute coach Ray Giacoletti. Giacoletti served as an assistant to then Husky head coach Bob Bender during the 1990s.

Giacoletti was a part of two NCAA tournament teams during his time in Seattle.

Should the Utes win, they will face the winner of the Oklahoma-High Point match-up. A loss against Washington, and they are pitted against that game’s loser.

The second round game will be on Friday, either in the afternoon or evening, depending on how the Utes fare against the Huskies.

The tournament finals are slated for Saturday.

The U’s next game in the contiguous 48 states will be back in the Huntsman Center on Tuesday.

Instate rival Southern Utah comes to Salt Lake City for a 7 p.m. clash.

[email protected]