Wichita State guard Ria’n Holland made every road trip last season and witnessed every red-out, white-out and blue-out. While redshirting, he sat at the end of the bench, often close to the fans directing smack talk and insulting signs at the Shockers.
“I got to hear all of it,” he said. “It was too much to remember. There was some crazy stuff.”
No. 8 WSU (4-0) plays its first road game on Wednesday at No. 25 Utah (5-1) and the Shockers can expect another fired-up crowd at the 15,000-seat Huntsman Center. Eight scholarship Shockers will face a hostile crowd for the first time after three cozy home games and a neutral-court victory over Memphis.
The Shockers didn’t need to play deep in a 71-56 win in South Dakota and they didn’t. The newcomers (two redshirt freshmen, two junior transfers and four freshmen) totaled 13 points, 14 fouls and six turnovers against Memphis. Wednesday’s game is the next reveal in preparing WSU’s bench for a road challenge.
“If they go and lay an egg, it doesn’t mean they are bad players,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “It will be the first on-the-road test for them, and it will be nice if they can pass it with flying colors. I’m certain some of them will play really well, and some might not play so well.”
The Shockers can afford to work through those growing pains because of the talent and experience of the starters. WSU excels on the road recently — 38-8 the past four seasons — because players believe they prepare for a stressful environment with practices that are more stressful. WSU’s juniors and seniors will need to show the younger generation how that works.
“They’re still getting used to 10,000 cheering for them, and now it’s going to be the exact opposite,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said. “There’s nothing you can really tell them or show them, other than just staying focused. We’ve really got to lead.”
WSU’s newcomers are happy to lean on them. Not surprisingly, Holland and fellow redshirt freshman Shaq Morris are the most consistent of the rookies. They are benefiting from last season’s practices. Freshman forward Rashard Kelly’s physical play and rebounding skills translate well to any venue. Production from the rest leans more toward the unpredictable.
“An away game is still the same concept and the same basketball game,” Kelly said. “Except for the energy of the crowd isn’t with you, it’s against you, and that’s a big difference. You can’t look for somebody else, or energy from others, to boost you. You’ve got to give it yourself.”
Utah is playing its sixth home game and the previous five each drew more than 9,000 fans. Last season, the Utes drew an average of 10,355 for a resurgent season that ended in the NIT. Plans for Wednesday include asking fans to wear red or white, by seating section, to stripe the arena.
“You’ve got to get mentally prepared for it and block that stuff out,” Holland said. “If we play our game, there’s nothing to really worry about. You can’t let the fans and environment take you out of your game.”
The Utes present enough challenges to occupy the Shockers without worrying about the roar of the crowd. Utah, 21-12 last season, has won five home games against overmatched opponents, the closest by 18 points over Ball State. The Utes lost 53-49 at San Diego State. Coach Larry Krystkowiak, in his fourth season, increased Utah’s win total each of the previous three.
“They rebound it great,” Marshall said. “Strong, tough, solid. He’s really building something nice.”
Krystkowiak returns six players who started last season, including senior guard Delon Wright, Utah’s first All-Pac-12 pick. He is a preseason candidate for the Wooden, Olsen and Cousy awards. Freshman center Jakob Poeltl is averaging 14.3 points and 10 rebounds the past three games.
Marshall describes Wright (6-foot-5, 195 pounds) as similar to former Shocker Toure Murry. Wright averages 15.2 points, 4.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds. After making 12 of 54 (22.2 percent) of his three-pointers last season, Wright is 6 of 11 (54.5) this season.
“He’s really long and athletic,” Marshall said. “He can shoot it and drive it. Great defender. He does it all.”
No. 8 Wichita State at No. 25 Utah
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City
Records: WSU 4-0, UU 5-1
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
No. 8 Wichita State at No. 25 Utah
Wichita State: The Shockers have won 12 straight road games, the nation’s longest streak and 35 straight regular-season games. … Utah is 6-1 against the Shockers and won the last meeting 58-36 in 1991 at WSU. … Baker made a career-high six three-pointers in Saturday’s 75-55 win over Tulsa. He has 110 career threes, 17th on WSU’s list and three behind former Shocker Cleanthony Early. … WSU is 26 of 59 from three-point range after starting the season missing its first 18.
Utah: Junior F Jordan Loveridge missed the past two games with a knee injury, a move the Deseret News described as precautionary. Loveridge averages 11.5 points and his status for Wednesday’s game will depend on how the knee feels after practices, according to the Deseret News. … Utah is holding teams to 55 points and 35.1-percent shooting. … Ogbe scored a career-high 19 points in Saturday’s 93-62 win over Alabama State, making 3 of 6 three-pointers … The Utes are shooting 44.6 percent from three-point range (45 of 101), with Ogbe making 50 percent (9 of 18) and F Kyle Kuzman making 45.5 percent (5 of 11) … The last game between ranked teams in the Huntsman Center was in 1999, a win by No. 12 Utah over No. 21 New Mexico. Utah has lost 13 straight games to teams ranked in the top 10.