SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn't pretty and it turned out to be more of a grind than expected, but Utah officially opened the Larry Krystkowiak era with a victory — a 58-55 decision over San Diego Christian College.
"It's a win for us and we're happy about it," Krystkowiak said. "But we've got a lot of work to do."
Some late breakdowns, he added, made the game a lot closer than it should have been. Even so, the outcome is all that really mattered Monday night in the Huntsman Center.
"It's important that we savor the wins. It's a little bit of feel good," Krystkowiak said. "The guys have been working very hard."
Josh "Jiggy" Watkins and Jason Washburn, the only returning players from last season not out with injuries, led the way. Watkins finished with 23 points, five assists and four rebounds. Washburn added a double-double with 12 points and a career-high 10 rebounds.
"I thought it was real positive for Jiggy and Jason," Krystkowiak said.
Watkins capitalized on a shortcoming he noticed early in the game.
"I just took the little opportunities they gave me on the floor," Watkins said. "I saw they weren't covering the pick-and-rolls that well and I had an opportunity and I took it. Coach told me to take it."
Good thing. The Utes needed all they could get against the pesky Hawks, an undersized shooting team that posed some matchup problems, Krystkowiak noted, especially out on the perimeter.
And there was something else.
"I don't want to make excuses but they started five seniors and this is our second game together," Washburn said while noting that no one was worried about the narrow margin of victory.
"We won and in the end you do what it takes to win," he explained. "That's it."
Getting their first win after last season's mass exodus following the firing of head coach Jim Boylen was a big deal for the Runnin' Utes. Washburn acknowledged it was like getting a monkey off their back.
"We know what our team is all about. Obviously people have their questions about us out there and hopefully we answered a few tonight," he said. "We pulled out a win and we're happy to have it."
SDCC, which lost its season opener to Carroll College 71-62 at home last Saturday, keep things interesting down to the final buzzer. The Hawks were unable to get a final shot off as time expired after Watkins made a free throw with 1.6 seconds remaining.
It capped a competitive contest with two lead changes and a pair of ties in the second half. The Utes took the lead for good on a 6-0 run that made it 47-41 with 7:31 remaining.
Utah led 30-29 at halftime despite shooting just 39.1 percent from the floor. The Utes were a dismal 1-of-6 from 3-point range. They remained in contention, however, because of Watkins. The senior had 14 points and three assists at the break.
The first half was a seesaw affair with seven lead changes. Utah's biggest advantage was 17-12 following a pair of free throws by Kareem Storey at 10:53. SDCC responded with a 15-4 run, reeling off nine straight points during one stretch, to take a 27-21 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the half.
The Utes fired back with a 7-0 burst to regain the lead before an exchange of scores ended with Anthony Odunsi making two fouls shots down the stretch.44 comments on this story
SDCC netted seven points off of seven Utah turnovers in the first half. The Hawks had four, but the Utes failed to convert any of the early miscues into scores.
GAME NOTES: Utah visits Boise State Wednesday before returning home to face Montana State on Saturday . . . The attendance was 7,774 . . . SDCC's roster had an international flair with players from Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Belgium and Australia . . . The Utes' 61-60 loss to Adams State earlier this month was an exhibition game.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DirkFacer