December 22, 2014

Defensive-minded Utah got back on track over the weekend behind one of its better displays of the season.

The 14th-ranked Utes will try to clamp down again Tuesday night against visiting South Dakota State, which is riding its longest winning streak in almost two years.

Utah (8-2) has allowed opponents to shoot 36.0 percent for one of the best marks in the country, and is also holding teams to an average of 56.8 points after giving up 64.3 per game last season.

The Utes had won six in a row before falling 63-60 at No. 10 Kansas on Dec. 13, but they bounced back with Saturday's 59-46 win over UNLV. Delon Wright and Brandon Taylor combined for 33 points and 10 steals as the Utes outscored the Runnin' Rebels 35-23 in the second half.

Utah also got a big boost from the crowd at the MGM Grand Showcase, which included thousands of Utes fans as well as the school's cheerleaders, band and mascot after the football team beat Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl earlier in the day.

"It didn't feel like a road game. It was powerful for our players to have that crowd support in another arena," coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "It was a solid overall game for us."

The Utes would appear to have a good chance to keep building at home, where they've won 25 straight against unranked opponents by an average of 24.5 points. Utah also got by then-No. 8 Wichita State 69-68 in overtime Dec. 3, improving to 6-0 at home for the second consecutive season.

The Jackrabbits (9-3), however, could present a challenge. South Dakota State has won seven in a row for its longest run since stringing together eight straight victories Jan. 10-Feb. 7, 2013.

The Jackrabbits stayed hot with Saturday's 68-65 overtime win at Utah State in the World Vision Classic title game, handing the Aggies their second loss in 53 tournament games at home. Junior George Marshall was named tournament MVP after averaging 13.7 points during the three-day event in his first action since transferring from Wisconsin last season.

"For (Marshall) not to have played for over a year and to come in here and put in the minutes he put in is really incredible," coach Scott Nagy told the school's official website. "I'm really proud of him, the players are proud of him, he's a likable guy and his teammates love him, it's amazing what he did for us."

The Jackrabbits' last four games have all been decided by four points or fewer, and they've held their last three opponents to a combined 36.6 percent shooting.

"We had a stretch of three games in four days over Thanksgiving so we know how difficult that can be," Krystkowiak said of the Jackrabbits. "This has been a tough stretch for us. This isn't Wichita State coming in, but they are a very good team."

South Dakota State could have trouble containing Wright, who's averaging 19.7 points on 58.6 percent shooting over a six-game stretch. Deondre Parks leads the Jackrabbits with 14.0 points per game.

South Dakota State is 1-8 against Top 25 opponents since moving to Division I in 2004-05, beating No. 16 New Mexico 70-65 on Dec. 22, 2012.

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