The first three or four games college games of the season are often times the most unpredictable. No one knows what anybody has. Players have graduated, transfered, shuffled around, often times coaches don't even know who their best players are. Such is the case for the University of Utah's opener against Southern Utah Utah. SUU plays in Midcontinent Conference it's most notable member is Valparaiso - notable only because it's low seed when it won an NCAA tournament game.
The Huntsman Center is only a third full and I can't even find a program or roster. I quickly grab one of the best seats in college basketball. Row 1 of the upper bowl at the Huntsman Center. Great because no one can stand in front of you and because you can put your feet up on the railing during slow points during the game. The crowd seems to feel Utah will just roll over an easy out of conference patsy.
Early in the game, I am sitting in front of a professor at the U. and he cheers as one of his students enters the game. Apparently, the kid is actually attending class, a nice idea considering this is "college" basketball. Lawrence Bohra is his name, but he doesn't play long, the ball bounces off his hands and out of bounds during one possession and the professor jokes that he's going to lower his grade from his current "b" to a "c" for the turnover.
Besides the tradition and facilities, the only real difference between the two teams on the floor appears to be Utah's 7'1" center Luke Neville. He's 6" taller than anybody Southern Utah has and Utah tries to take full advantage by pounding the ball inside every time. The only problem is they can't stop SUU. SUU shots 73% in the first half and takes a five point lead into the half. Utah scores the first 14 points of the second half and opens up it's own 9 point lead. The crowd is listless, almost acting as if they expected the turn of events. Only no one told Stephen Barnes.
Barnes is a 5'10" point guard from right in Cedar City, and his fiery play leads SUU back. With only two minutes to go the Thunderbirds have cut the lead to two points. The spartan crowd suddenly wakes from its stooper and tries to carry the Utes for the final two minutes. But Barnes hits two jump shots with under a minute to play to give SUU a one point lead with 35 second left. Utah plays for the last shot, but Utah's point guard Johnny Bryant, is trapped on the baseline and he forces a bad fall away jump shot that isn't close. Utah fouls and SUU makes both free throws to steal an unexpected 76-73 win at the Huntsman Center. I leave and hear one Utah fan say to another, "that wasn't supposed to happen." I am reminded why early season college basketball can often be just as eventful as March Madness, it just doesn't get the hype.