Depth charge

During the preseason, Ute coach Ray Giacoletti stressed that his team would need to overcome a short bench in order to be successful.

That short bench is starting to look a lot longer.

Junior guard Richard Chaney, out for the last two weeks with a broken hand, will make a surprisingly early return to the lineup Saturday afternoon when the Utes (15-3) take on New Mexico (14-3).

“It’s always nice to have everyone back and healthy,” guard Marc Jackson said, “He brings great energy and he’s a great shooter. We need him back.”

Chaney’s return comes a full two weeks earlier than expected. He was cleared by doctors on Wednesday, and will come off the bench versus New Mexico on Saturday.

In 11 games this season, Chaney averaged 11.5 points per game, along with 2.7 rebounds.

With more players getting time during Chaney and forward Justin Hawkins’ (bad back) absence, the Utes now have much greater depth than before being plagued by injuries.

“The silver lining (to Chaney being hurt) was that other guys stepped up,” Ute center Andrew Bogut said. “Now we’re so much more deep.”

Now that Chaney and Hawkins will be coming off the bench, the Utes have some big scoring options. Jonas Langvad has been acting as the sixth man, and the three of them have all had season highs in points of at least 19. For the first time this season, the Utes will be able to play four players (Chaney, Bogut, Marc Jackson and Bryant Markson) who average double figures in points.

This is bad news for the Lobos, as star forward Danny Granger is not expected to play. But even with Utah healthy and New Mexico hurting, the U is not taking UNM lightly.

“We have to come hard and play hard,” Bogut said, “Otherwise they’ll hand it to us at home.”

As of late, the Lobos have had a hard time taking it to any Mountain West Conference team away from The Pit. They have lost their last 20 conference road games, including a 73-43 pasting in last season’s visit to the Huntsman Center.

This early conference duel will have big implications on the rest of the slate. A Ute loss would drop them to 3-1, and with a return visit to Albuquerque looming, it could be a tough road to win the conference. The Utes haven’t won in The Pit since 2002, including a 16-point drubbing last year.

The Lobos are coming off a heartbreaking 64-62 loss at Air Force. Their conference record stands at 1-1, with the win coming at home against Wyoming.

This will be the 113 meeting between the U and New Mexico, with the Utes holding a 73-39 advantage. Utah has won 11 of the last 15 matches, and the last 15 games between the two teams at the Huntsman Center.

The U is hoping for a big crowd to be at the 1 p.m. game, as the undefeated football team will be honored. The Fiesta Bowl trophy is expected to attend the event.

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