While the weather outside is frightful, the firestorm waiting inside isn't much better.
With a 60 percent chance of snow in Salt Lake City, Utah, today, Augusta State is not exactly walking into a winter wonderland. The Jaguars (3-3) play Division I No. 20 Utah tonight at 9 EST at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, where the Utes (2-2) have the third-longest active homecourt winning streak in Division I at 37 games.
"They're very big and they're very experienced," Augusta State coach Gary Tuell said. "They've got four guys back from a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last year and three starters back from a team that went to the championship game two years ago. They've got the best coach in America. It's not going to be easy. They're just so darn big."
Tuell will reunite with his old friend Rick Majerus on the court. The two friends played against each other previously when Tuell's NAIA St. Thomas team lost to Utah 87-63 in the 1995-96 season. It will be Augusta State's first Division I opponent since a victory at Liberty last season.
"I expect to eat well," Tuell said. "Rick's going to take me out to eat twice so I look forward to that. I expect our kids to have a great time. I expect them to find out what it's like to compete against a top-20 team in Division I and to play in front of a lot of people who are good basketball fans."
Augusta State will play in front of one of its largest crowds ever, an expected gathering of 11,500. Alex Jensen, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, leads the Utes, who lost at Weber State 82-74 on Wednesday night, in scoring (11.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.7 rpg). Other probable starters include 6-11, 260-pound center Nate Althoff (10.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and senior guards Tony Harvey (8.0 ppg) and Jeremy Killion (10.7 ppg).
"I've played them before and I know what to do to compete with them," Tuell said. "Whether or not we can do that I don't know. But you have to get back on defense and not give them easy baskets and you've got to block out and rebound. Then you've got to make some threes to stay competitive with them. If you don't make your threes out there you're going to have some problems, because you're not going to get a lot of points inside because they're too darn big."
The Jaguars did catch a break in that the Utes are without 6-9, 250-pound forward Hanno Mottola. Mottola, a preseason All-American selection, is recovering from a medial collateral tear in his left knee.
"With Mottola playing, there's no doubt in my mind they would be in the top 10," Tuell said. "He didn't play in the NIT at Kentucky and they lost to Kentucky by eight points. If he would've played, they'd have probably beaten Kentucky up there and they'd probably be in the top four or five."
Festus Hawkins leads the Jaguars in scoring (13.8 ppg) and rebounds (7.3). Demetric Hymes-Taylor (13.5 ppg) and Gary Boodnikoff (12 ppg) lead an Augusta State 3-point attack which is averaging 41 percent on the year.
"We're just happy to play a Division I team of Utah's caliber," Tuell said. "It's going to be an experience our guys won't forget. They'll talk about this for a long, long time no matter what the outcome is."
There will be a web broadcast of the game. Go to the web site www.broadcast.com/sports/ncaa/utah/mensbasketball/and click on "Go!" next to the Augusta State listing. You will need a sound card and will need to download RealPlayer from the Internet to listen to the game.