December 19, 2014

Utah has learned some valuable lessons through three legs of a treacherous four-game stretch, including how much it's relying on senior guard Delon Wright.

The 14th-ranked Utes hope to get more from the rest of their rotation Saturday night as they play what amounts to a home game for former Mountain West Conference rival UNLV in the MGM Grand Showcase.

The Utah football team will play in the Las Vegas Bowl earlier in what figures to be an eventful Saturday. Oklahoma faces Washington in the opener of the basketball showcase at the Grand Garden Arena.

"Both programs will do well," Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "Proximity is great for us, just like the relationship with Las Vegas and the MGM Grand. There is going to be a lot of red there with Oklahoma and UNLV playing along with us. It will be a nice showing. We still have to remember this is a road game."

After a 69-68 overtime home win over then-No. 8 Wichita State, Utah (7-2) pulled out a 65-61 road victory over BYU on Dec. 10 before falling to 63-60 to No. 10 Kansas in Kansas City last Saturday.

Wright was named the Pac-12 player of the week after totaling 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and six steals while shooting 15 for 23 from the field against the Cougars and Jayhawks.

Krystkowiak, however, would like to see more balance after Wright was the only player with double-digit points in the last two games. Wright made 9 of 13 shots last Saturday, while the rest of the Utes went 12 for 41 (29.3 percent).

"He's rising to the challenge," the coach said. "Players want to be on big stages. I want to see more guys exceeding expectations and putting heat on themselves. Our guys need to rise up."

UNLV (7-2), which is 5-0 in Las Vegas, hopes to extend its winning streak to four following Wednesday's 75-73 victory over Portland at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Runnin' Rebels tied the score on Dwayne Morgan's layup at the regulation buzzer before winning on Cody Doolin's driving layup with less than a second left in overtime.

Rashad Vaughn, one of five freshmen in the rotation, had 25 points. Sophomore Christian Wood, who scored 17, leads all Mountain West players with 9.2 rebounds and is tied for seventh nationally with 3.2 blocks per game.

He's likely to play a key role facing a Utah team that owns a plus-9.7 rebounding margin.

The Runnin' Rebels are limiting opponents to 36.6 percent shooting after holding teams to 10 of 54 (18.5 percent) from 3-point range over their last three.

Utah has gone 6 of 33 from long range in its past two contests since shooting 44.3 percent over its first seven. The Utes also have been tough defensively, limiting opponents to 36.3 percent from the floor.

With a home date against No. 3 Arizona looming Tuesday, the Rebels are playing on the strip for the first time in their history. They dropped their four games against ranked opponents last season.

"We've gotten off to a pretty good start and we have to continue to get better," coach Dave Rice said. "That starts with being aggressive and hard working every single day in practice and every possession."

The Rebels have won the last three meetings overall and eight of nine matchups in Las Vegas. The teams haven't met since UNLV's 78-58 road win in Utah's final Mountain West game in March 2011.

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