SALT LAKE CITY — Jason Washburn’s return to the starting lineup may be a permanent one for the Utah Utes. After coming off the bench for nine straight games, the senior center reclaimed his spot from sophomore Dallin Bachynski in Friday’s 72-38 win over the College of Idaho.
“The fact that Wash was taken out of the starting lineup didn’t mean, by any means, that I still didn’t think he was maybe the most productive 5-man we have,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “A couple of elements is when he did come off the bench he played as well as he ever played.”
Krystkowiak noted that Washburn was never in foul trouble at halftime and let the game come to him. On the flip side, he continued, Bachynski may have been putting too much pressure on himself to produce as a starter.
“So I think, to me, we probably have a greater upside if Dallin comes off the bench now and can free up his mind. I know Wash is going to be Steady Eddie in terms of coming in and doing his thing. So a lot of things go into the thinking of it,” Krystkowiak said. “But I just think it’s the best decision for our team and at the end of the day that’s what we’re always thinking about. None of these guys’ feelings are going to be hurt. But it’s what we need to do, or what we as a coaching staff think we need to do, in order to give ourselves the best chance.”
Washburn, who responded to the change with 10 points and four rebounds, downplayed the switch. While noting that starting is fun, he said it isn’t a big deal to him personally. Either way, he’s determined to have the “same aggressive mindset.”
PAC-12 PREPARATION: After completing the nonconference portion of their schedule with an 8-4 mark, Krystkowiak said the Utes are excited to embark upon the next journey — Pac-12 play. He noted that the Utes have faced a number of different styles, thus far, and that should be beneficial in conference games.
Confidence is another positive variable.
“All of our losses in nonconference were close. All of them were tough to swallow because we felt like we could win them all and we were in positions to win them all,” Washburn said. “But at the same time, it’s helped us grow. It’s given us something to build on and going into conference now we have a really good idea of what it takes for this team to win. We’re going to see what we’re made of when we go down to Arizona State.”
TAYLOR TIME: Freshman guard Brandon Taylor is making the most of his minutes as of late. In a span of 10 days, he scored in double figures twice — nearly doubling his point production over seven previous appearances. Taylor had a career-high 14 points in Friday’s win over the College of Idaho. In Utah’s victory over SMU on Dec. 18, he provided a spark with 10 off the bench.
The productivity, Krystkowiak acknowledged, could potentially lead to more playing time. Taylor has logged just 65 minutes this season.
“He’s come in in a couple of games and given us a big lift,” Krystkowiak said.
Taylor’s rise gives the Utes increased depth as Pac-12 play approaches.
“It’s good that he’s coming into his own right now because we’re going to need all of our bench to compete in this league,” Washburn said. “So the fact that he’s getting himself going is a real bright spot for us.”
SPEAKING OF TIME: When it comes to Utah’s freshmen, Krystkowiak said the main challenge is on defense. It’s a real common thing, he explained, that takes a little while to get resolved. There’s a sense of urgency, though, because of the number of elite players in the Pac-12.
“They have to be ready to guard,” Krystkowiak said. “And that’s going to be the determining factor with whether those guys continue to play as many minutes as they have.”
Utah (8-4) at Arizona State (11-2)
Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe
Wednesday, 8 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN 700AM