SALT LAKE CITY — When Utah picked up its sixth win of the season with a 77-56 victory over Boise State on Dec. 5, senior Jason Washburn nudged teammate Cedric Martin and said: “Wow, bro, like we’re already where we were last year.”
Although the seniors kind of joke about it, things are quite different this time around. The Utes (6-3) can surpass their 2011-12 win total with a triumph over SMU (8-2) Tuesday night in the Huntsman Center.
“Even though seven beats last year, there’s still more ahead for us,” Washburn said. “Obviously we want a little more than seven. We want to keep it going as much as we can. We want to keep improving every practice.”
It’s an approach Utah is continuing in Larry Krystkowiak’s second season at the helm
“You just keep trying to get your team better,” he said.
The process of addressing weaknesses, Krystkowiak said, includes putting out fires along the way and not repeating mistakes.
“We’ll just keep plugging along,” Krystkowiak said. “Hopefully seven (wins) happens pretty fast. But, it's really nothing but a number.”
Last season’s sixth win didn’t come until Feb. 25 when the revamped Utes upset Stanford 58-57. They went on to finish 6-25 overall.
“I know things weren’t positive last season as far as wins and losses, but I’ve never had as much fun dealing with a group of kids and knowing that we kind of squeezed all the juice out of the lemon to take advantage of the numbers of wins that we had,” Krystkowiak said. “It was rewarding for everybody. The seniors graduated. So there were a lot of positive things that took place for us, even though the total wasn’t where we wanted it to be.”
As this season evolves, Krystkowiak is hopeful that on-court issues like zone offense, defensive rebounding and a reduction in turnovers will be resolved early on. Getting better is the bottom line.
“I’m a firm believer that the wins and losses will take care of themselves,” said Krystkowiak, who said that a victory total has never been the goal with his team.
True freshman Jordan Loveridge knew the Utes struggled last season, but insists he wasn’t aware of how many wins they had. As such, Loveridge is not putting much importance on topping that victory total so early in the season.
“It doesn’t really surprise me because I know the guys that I’m surrounded by,” Loveridge said. “I just know we have a lot of great players on this team.”
Besides Boise State, Utah has victories over Willamette (104-47), Idaho State (57-46), Central Michigan (67-51), Wright State (66-54) and Texas State (74-69). Losses have come at home against Sacramento State (74-71) and on the road at SMU (62-55) and BYU (61-58).
The latter came in the Utes’ latest outing. Although the outcome of the emotional game on Dec. 8 was disappointing to them, it also proved to be educational.
“I think we learned some things about our team,” Krystkowiak said. “There were a couple of things that we were exposed to that hopefully we’re better at the next time around.”
The learning experience, he added, has been followed by final exams in school and an opportunity to get the team healed up from bumps and bruises.
“I think it was positive,” Krystkowiak acknowledged, confirming that SMU is now the primary focus.
The Utes and Mustangs, who are coached by Hall of Famer Larry Brown, will square off for the second time since Nov. 28.
Cal State Northridge comes to town Friday night.
Utes on the air
SMU (8-2) at Utah (6-3)
Tuesday, 7 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 networks
Radio: ESPN 700 AM