Utah hosts Northwestern State on Wednesday in its pre-Christmas finale and final non-conference tune-up of the season. It also will be the non-league finale for the Demons, who will be visiting Salt Lake City on the second night of a daunting back-to-back road trip after falling 105-68 at No. 17 Oklahoma on Tuesday.
The Utes could use a win after dropping two of their last three. The latest loss came Saturday night in Provo as host BYU took control and never trailed en route to a 77-65 win after Utah took an early 10-9 lead. The Utes shot 46.4 percent from the floor in the game, but the Cougars hit 51.9 percent of their shots, including 10-of-20 from 3-point range, and enjoyed a 33-28 rebound advantage. “(We had) too many self-inflicted gunshot wounds with charging into people, putting our head down and trying to do it independently,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiwak said in his postgame news conference. “We don’t have a team that can do it independently. We’ve got to do it collectively, and we’ve got a ways to go.”
TV: 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN STATE (3-7): The Demons hit 43.1 percent of their shots against the Sooners, but their season-long problems protecting the ball persisted as they had 23 turnovers and only seven assists. Forward Ishmael Lane had a team-high 17 points in the contest and, at 1’1.6 points per game, joins guards Jalen West (12.7) and Iziahiah Sweeney (10.8) in double figures while leading the team in rebounding with 6.4 per outing. The Demons have only played three home games so far and will open Southland Conference play with three more road contests, beginning Dec. 28 at Nicholls.
ABOUT UTAH (7-3): Led by forward David Collette (13.5 points) and guard Justin Bibbins (10.8, team-leading 4.4 assists), all five starters are averaging at least 8.3 points per outing. However, the Utes are shuffling their rotation around after freshman forward Donnie Tillman – the team’s sixth-man, second-leading rebounder (6.2) and third-leading scorer (10.7) – sat out the BYU game with a sprained left foot encased in a walking boot. Fellow freshman forward Chris Seeley (4.7 points, 5.7 rebounds) remains sidelined after undergoing gallbladder surgery Dec. 1, and the Utes will need forward Tyler Rawson (10.3 points, team-leading 6.7 boards) and 7-footer Jayce Johnson (7.1, 5.1) to fill the void inside.
1. This will be the first meeting between the programs, but Utah is 4-1 against Southland foes with four straight victories.
2. The Utes are ranked 16th nationally with a 78.1 free-throw percentage and have seven different players shooting better than 75 percent from the stripe.
3. Utah will have nine days before its next game – the Dec. 29 Pac-12 opener at Oregon.
PREDICTION: Utah 88, Northwestern State 60