Utah Utes basketball: Despite difficult season, Larry Krystkowiak maintaining his resolve

Published: Tuesday, March 6 2012 12:00 p.m. MST

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak as the University of Utah plays Colorado in men's PAC 12 basketball Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012,in Salt Lake City Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

LOS ANGELES — When it comes to describing his first season at the University of Utah, Larry Krystkowiak uses an analogy about getting something painted.

While continually thinking about what you're doing and the final result, he explained, there are things to do that aren't a whole lot of fun, like sanding and taping.

The preparation, though, eventually pays off.

It's a blueprint, of sorts, that Krystkowiak has in place for the Runnin' Utes.

"I feel like we're just kind of popping the lid off the can now," he said. "And we're going to be able to start reaping some of the benefits or some of the rewards and really get moving forward."

Despite a topsy-turvy initial season at the helm, Krystkowiak has maintained his resolve. He's had plenty of challenges to tackle, including a roster overhaul and a late start to recruiting.

And more, much more.

Of the four returnees from 2010-11, seniors David Foster and "Jiggy" Watkins failed to stay on the active roster. Foster was sidelined all season long with a foot injury and Krystkowiak wound up dismissing Watkins from the team in January for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

The Utes enter Wednesday's Pac-12 Tournament game against Colorado (9:30 p.m. MST, Root Sports) with a 6-24 record, including a 3-15 mark in conference play. They've had highs, like upsetting Stanford at home, but a lot more lows, including a pair of eight-game losing streaks and no wins away from the Huntsman Center.

None of the losses, however, were as bad as the last road game. Saturday's 94-48 setback at Oregon was the most-lopsided defeat in program history. It also extended the Utes' skid away from Salt Lake City to 17 games over two seasons.

The abundance of negative situations, though, has yet to alter Krystkowiak's approach.

"If Coach K was ever disappointed or dismayed or doubtful about the season, we never saw it," said junior center Jason Washburn. "If he was ever worried about the season, we never saw it. He was always positive."

Washburn added that Krystkowiak has been quite resilient and has done a phenomenal job with the Utes.

Utah athletics director Chris Hill also likes what he's seeing.

"I feel very good about what's evolved with the program and I'm a realist. I know it's going to be hard and I know we've got a big hill to climb," Hill said. "But I'm really excited, to be honest, that I think that we can build this thing. It's going to take some time, but a lot of basketball is based on effort and team play and good defense and I think that's what we're establishing."

After closing out the home schedule with a thrilling 58-57 victory over Stanford on Feb. 25, Hill credits Krystkowiak and his staff, as well as the players, for the team's hard play late in the season — especially after experiencing so many struggles.

"The moral victory thing gets real old," Hill said. "We all know that. We all want to win."

Hill has also seen another side of Krystkowiak.

"He takes things in stride. This year is a real test of how you're going to handle situations," Hill said. "Larry's not oblivious to how things are, but at the same time he takes a measured approach — more than I anticipated."

It fits into the overall scheme of things. While acknowledging that expectations for wins and losses weren't very high because of circumstances, Hill points out that the Utes have definitely improved and are getting the job done academically and conditioning-wise under Krystkowiak.

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