December 11, 2015

Utah barely got by Wichita State at home last season in a matchup of ranked teams.

Only the No. 25 Utes are in the poll, but taking down the Shockers with Fred VanVleet back in their lineup might prove just as difficult this time at Wichita's downtown Intrust Bank Arena on Saturday.

Utah's most significant nonconference victory of 2014-15 was 69-68 in overtime against then-No. 8 Wichita State last December.

"It's a surreal feeling," guard Brandon Taylor said after scoring 17 to help the then-No. 25 Utes end the Shockers' 35-game regular-season winning streak.

Back in the Top 25 after a two-week absence, Utah (7-1) enters the rematch much less in awe of the Shockers but also guarding against taking Wichita State (4-4) lightly just because it isn't ranked.

That status wasn't always the case this season for the Shockers, who opened 10th in the poll and were a spot higher when they lost by 10 to Tulsa on Nov. 17. They fell out of the Top 25 after losing three straight to USC, Alabama and Iowa at the Advocare Invitational while VanVleet sat with a hamstring injury.

Since returning from his four-game absence, the standout point guard has totaled 28 points, shot 47.6 percent and recorded 11 assists as Wichita State won at St. Louis last Saturday and beat UNLV 56-50 on Wednesday to extend its home winning streak to 35.

"With (UNLV) coming in and followed up by Utah, we know it's a big week," said VanVleet, the 2014 Missouri Valley Conference player of the year who scored 17 in a season-high 33 minutes against the Runnin' Rebels. "We got to keep taking steps in the right direction."

If Utah is to halt that progression it likely needs a more complete effort than it had in Saturday's 96-79 win over IPFW. The Utes shot a season-high 62.3 percent to win their fourth in a row, but trailed by seven in the first half thanks to an early 77.8 percent shooting performance by the Mastodons.

''That's one of those games, when you're working on the schedule, that's very dangerous,'' Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "Second half, we got some people's attention ... It was pretty easy to challenge our guys that we need to have a little more pride than that."

Seven-footer Jakob Poeltl (21.3 points, 9.9 rebounds per game) had his three-game streak of doubles-doubles end, but scored 21 on 10-of-12 shooting and added a career-high six assists.

"He's not afraid to pass and we have to make sure everyone on the team feels that way and get good shots," Krystkowiak said.

Poeltl had 12 points, 11 boards and three blocks and the Utes shot 47.1 percent while holding Wichita State to 38.1 from the field last season.

The Shockers are shooting just 39.0 percent and 29.6 from 3-point range, but Krystkowiak expects a more determined defensive performance after Utah allowed IPFW to shoot 44.9 percent and go 13 of 27 from beyond the arc.

"Our defense has to get significantly better if we want to accomplish our team goals," said Krystkowiak, whose squad is allowing opponents to shoot 42.3 percent on 3s - among the worst marks in the country.

Ron Baker, averaging 16.9 points, combined with VanVleet to score 28 at Salt Lake City last December.

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