Other teams help give Utah a good name

By Christopher Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

It’s no secret.

Utah is often looked upon as an oddball place that folks don’t know a whole hell of a lot about.

Yes, there were the Osmonds, Karl Malone and John Stockton.

No, you don’t run into a plethora of polygamists and horn-headed people. You will run into some pretty good basketball teams, though.

It wouldn’t be safe to pigeonhole Utah and BYU as the two paramount and engaging teams in the state, either. They aren’t.

Last week was one to remember for everyone involved in the Runnin’ Utes’ program. Their 94-88 overtime victory over BYU looked like a classic bout. Punches were traded. Jabs were landed. Hooks were emphatically delivered. Saturday’s 69-68 squeaker victory over New Mexico proved that Utah can win8212;no matter the confounding platform.

The Cougars are a respectable 14-5 and despite the recent string of struggles within Mountain West Conference play. Lee Cummard, also known as “Leethiopia,” showcased his potential to play at the next level by going 10-for-14 against the Utes. Almost every one of the 10 made buckets was as contested as it gets8212;and they were all jumpers. Super sophomore Jimmer Fredette is another Utah County All-Star that is opening the eyes of the nation. BYU hung extremely tight with ACC powerhouse Wake Forest and perennial PAC-10 player Arizona State.

It’s obvious this college basketball season is playing out to be something to remember for the Beehive State.

In case you didn’t know it, there’s an in-state team that is 21-1.

The Utah State Aggies have rattled off 16-straight wins after losing to8212;who else8212;BYU 68-63 at the Energy Solutions Arena on Dec. 6. Stew Morrill’s crew is led by a “Big Red Machine” in ginger, big man Gary Wilkinson, who has been dubbed as one of the best and most underrated players in the country. Wilkinson averages 17.3 points per game, along with 7.3 rebounds.

One thing to do would criminally misconstrue USU as a pushover.

The Aggies have beaten Utah and Wyoming. Ditto for Boise State and Fresno State8212;twice. In fact, the Aggies saw a last-second, 60-foot heave by Bulldog Sylvester Seay swish and send Saturday night’s game into overtime. USU left Fresno, Calif., victorious despite the amazing shot. Wilkinson dominated with 33 points on 14-of-17 shooting.

Don’t discount Utah Valley University8212;formerly Utah Valley State College8212;as it seems to have found itself another Ronnie Price.

A 6-foot-4-inch senior from Gilbert, Ariz., is conducting a memorable Price impersonation. Ryan Toolson is averaging 24.5 points per game, which places him as sixth-best in the country behind the likes of Notre Dame big man Luke Harangody, Kentucky’s 54-point man Jodie Meeks and your neighborhood skinny-guy-that-is-tremendously-talented, Stephen Curry. Toolson did one better than Meeks.

Toolson mastered a 63-point performance Thursday in Chicago. The Wolverines (11-9) went up against Chicago State (11-12), which went from an average game into a nonstop point-scoring binge by both teams. Toolson shot 18-for-31 from the field, including 7-of-11 from 3-point range and 20-for-21 from the charity stripe. He also managed to snag 12 rebounds and dish out six assists8212;more than any other player did in UVU’s 123-121 quadruple overtime victory.

In Ogden, Weber State is holding its own, as always. The Wildcats have quietly gone 14-8 overall and 8-1 in Big Sky play and are a basic lock to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, there’s no Harold Arceneaux on this Wildcat squad.

It may be a bit early being Feb. 3 and all, but if things continue on this beaten path, the state of Utah could very well have four teams dancin’ come March.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi thinks so.

Wouldn’t that be terribly ironic?

Wait, where’s Utah anyway?

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Chris Kamrani