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Utes set to meet Giacoletti, Gonzaga

When Ray Giacoletti left Utah, his good friend Mark Few quickly gave him a chance to return to the coaching ranks. Giacoletti was named an assistant to Few shortly after being fired by the Utes on the heels of an abysmal campaign. He was replaced by Jim Boylen and since Boylen has taken over, the Utes are 8-3, three wins from reaching last year's win total. Utah will look to inch closer to last year's 11 wins tonight against Gonzaga in Washington.

Gonzaga enters the game on a rare two game losing streak, dropping games to Oklahoma and Tennessee, the latter played in Seattle's Key Arena. The slow start can be attributed in part to the injury of Josh Heytvelt, who had surgery for a stress fracture in November. Heytvelt is expected to play, as he's slowly been brought back into the Zags' rotation over the past two games. Against Tennessee Saturday, he scored 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting in 24 minutes.

The two teams met last in the 2002 Maui Invitational, where Utah was pummeled 71-52. This year the Utes hope for a role reversal, and the chance to notch up a major out of conference victory for a program still trying to rise above the depths of mediocrity that plagued them under the leadership of Giacoletti. And there is no question that his presence on the opposing sidelines will impact Utah in some way. Hopefully, though, it's a positive impact.

For the Utes to be successful, Luke Nevill will have to play tough basketball. It won't be easy, but he will definitely have a height advantage over the Bulldogs. Their tallest player is 7'4 center Will Foster, who hasn't played since December 17th. The center position will most likely fall back on Matt Bouldin, who is 6'11, giving Nevill the height advantage. On the season, Bouldin is averaging close to 13 points per game and had 21 against the Vols Saturday. He will definitely pose a threat to Nevill, who has been burned by scoring centers a few times already this season.

The Gonzaga offense will create some difficulty for the Utes, as they average 74 points per game on 45% shooting. However, Utah's offense is pretty effective too, averaging 71 PPG on 51% shooting. Utah's ability to win this game might come down to their defense, which has steadily improved over the year. The Utes are holding opponents to 62 points a game and have held opposing teams to 55 or less five times already this season. In stark contrast, Utah gave up 72 points per contest last season.

This isn't a must win for the Utes and I would be pretty surprised -- though delighted -- if they won. Gonzaga doesn't lose three games in a row often and since it's being played in their gym, it could get ugly. I'm not one for moral victories, but if Utah can stay competitive, I won't feel too bad if they lose. Of course, I'm hoping for a victory, which would have me penciling Utah in as a tournament team.