Former Western Athletic Conference rivals Fresno State and Utah will continue a new relationship when the schools meet in a non-conference game Tuesday night in Salt Lake City.
The 15th matchup in a rivalry that dates to a WAC game in 1993 finds both teams having returned to earth after flying starts.
Fresno State (9-2, 0-0 Mountain West) opened 5-0 and has since gone a respectable 4-2. But the losses have come on the road, where the Bulldogs have yet to win this season.
Fresno State had a memorable win at Utah in 1996 when the Utes were ranked 13th in the country. But Utah has won the three home rematches since, including 90-77 the last time the clubs squared off in Salt Lake City in a non-conference game in 2013.
The Bulldogs have rebounded from their most recent road loss — Dec. 8 at San Francisco, 71-63 — with a pair of home wins, including an 83-48 shellacking of Cal Poly on Friday. Junior Ballard and Orlando Robinson paced the win with 18 points apiece.
Ballard’s 18 points were eight more than he’d totaled in his first four games after returning from a shin injury.
“It is great to have Junior back,” Bulldogs coach Justin Hutson observed. “It was exciting to watch him because he worked really hard to get back from his injury. I loved what he did (against Cal Poly).”
The Bulldogs will see a Utah team that’s not at full strength after losing leading scorer Branden Carlson to COVID-19-related issues.
The 7-footer missed Saturday’s 83-75 loss at Missouri and likely won’t return until the Utes’ Dec. 30 Pac-12 Conference game at Oregon State.
“He’s anchored us for the most part, but hey, that’s how it goes,” coach Craig Smith assessed. “When you lose a guy like that, there are certainly things you have to overcome, but you have to overcome them.”
Utah (7-4, 1-1 Pac-12) has lost four of six since a 5-0 start. They are 5-1 at home, with the lone loss coming to rival Brigham Young.
David Jenkins Jr. had 18 points off the bench in the loss at Missouri.
–Field Level Media