Runnin’ Utes return home Tuesday to face SUU

After three games near the Arctic Circle, the Runnin’ Utes (3-1) return to the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center Tuesday night.

Southern Utah (2-1) is in town for the yearly intrastate clash, facing a U team returning after a successful run at the Great Alaska Shootout.

The Utes went 2-1 in the tournament, with the only setback coming in a close 78-71 loss to eventual tourney champion No. 16 Washington.

“Playing three games in three days, you find out a lot about your team,” U coach Ray Giacoletti said.

The Utes will have to be a quick study to find out about Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds employ a 1-1-3 zone, which concerns Giacoletti.

“It’s a unique formation that we don’t see very often,” Giacoletti said. “We just need to be as productive as we can today, watching film and practicing.”

Hailing from Cedar City, the T-Birds are coming off an overtime win versus Idaho State. The only blemish on SUU’s record is a 74-67 loss at Sacramento State.

The Thunderbirds play in the Mid-Continent conference. Comprised of mostly Midwestern teams, SUU finished 6-10 in conference play last season and 10-18 overall.

Senior Tim Gainey is the leading scorer for SUU, and while he comes off the bench, still has managed 17.3 points per game. The 6-foot-6-inch forward also averages 5.7 rebounds per contest and shoots 36.8 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Utah has benefited from a Bryant Markson resurgence. After poor performances in the first two games, the junior swingman had back-to-back double-digit point outputs against High Point and Furman.

“He came back and played really well,” Giacoletti said. “Him and everyone else have been trying to hold onto the basketball better and it’s been working.” Markson, known for his erratic play, went without a turnover in the Furman win. His 12 points and eight rebounds helped the Utes pull away from the Paladins in a game that wasn’t decided until the final moments.

Sophomore center Andrew Bogut is performing up to expectations so far. The seven-footer is averaging 18.5 points and 10 rebounds per game. He is one of three Utes averaging double figures in points, with Justin Hawkins and Marc Jackson averaging 14.5 and 13.5 points per game respectively.

Bogut was named MWC Player of the Week for his play in the Great Alaska Shootout.

The Utes are finally injury-free, now that Tim Drisdom’s ankle has completely healed. Giacoletti was relieved there were no injuries in the tournament, since depth is at a premium for his young squad.

Tip-off for Utah vs. Southern Utah is set for 7 p.m. in the Huntsman Center. This is the first of two straight intrastate games for the Utes, who travel to Logan Saturday afternoon for a showdown with Utah State.

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