I love the vibe in the community. I understand the holidays and the student situation. It's my hope that people are going to be interested. Any time you play a top 10 team that hasn't been beaten, hopefully there will be a little bit of excitement. —Larry Krystkowiak, Utah coach
SALT LAKE CITY — Thursday’s Pac-12 opener against 10th-ranked Oregon won’t be played in the best of circumstances for the Utah Utes. Although it’ll be played in the Huntsman Center, school won’t be in session until Monday, and the 6 p.m. tip time may make it difficult for fans to arrive on time.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, though, is hopeful things work out for the best and the Utes are backed by support similar to that shown in the 81-64 win over BYU on Dec. 14.
“I love the vibe in the community. I understand the holidays and the student situation. It’s my hope that people are going to be interested. Any time you play a top 10 team that hasn’t been beaten, hopefully there will be a little bit of excitement,” Krystkowiak said. “I think of the 30,000-plus students that we have here, we have a number that are in the community (this week) and I’d like to think that there’s even some Utah kids back on break that might be looking to watch what I hope is a good basketball game.”
Krystkowiak then reflected on the atmosphere when the Utes defeated the Cougars.
“It was really special walking onto that court for the BYU game. It wasn’t about me, but it was about just knowing the kind of charge that our players were going to get out of that,” said Krystkowiak, who added that it’s no secret what a home-court advantage in college basketball can mean.
“Short of begging people to come out and watch, I really feel proud that our kids get the opportunity to do that,” he explained. “So hopefully people will be able to block a couple of hours in their schedule and come and check it out. It’s going to be a heckuva team coming in here.”
UTES EXCITED: Utah’s first game against a ranked opponent this season is drawing a lot of excitement within the program.
“We’re ready and we want to play a team like this. We want to see where we’re at,” said sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge. “So I think we’re ready and we’re anxious to play this team.”
Oregon isn’t the only big draw. There’s also a lot of anticipation just to begin Pac-12 play.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get some things done and start this season off right,” said sophomore guard Brandon Taylor.
Newcomers like junior college transfer Delon Wright are also looking forward to it. The guard said it felt like he was playing his first collegiate game again.
“I’m real excited to finally play in the Pac-12,” Wright said. “I’ve been waiting for this for a while. So it’ll be really exciting.”
HIGH ANTICIPATION: Krystkowiak acknowledged that he’s also excited for conference games to get started. He likes the anticipation that is building as the opener approaches.
“I’m not in a position to try to clam anybody down. I like a little bit of reckless abandon and there’s going to be a lot of unchartered territory with some of the players,” Krystkowiak said. “But I love the excitements and the edge that it brings.”
Krystkowiak added that it’s kind of like raising kids — it’s easier to rein them back rather than try to get them excited about something.
TOUGHER PRESEASON: Krystkowiak said it’s safe to say that the Utes would have liked to have played a few more difficult non-conference games, particularly on the road, this season. However, a couple of opportunities fell apart at the last minute and much of the schedule was put in place two years ago when the program won just six games.
“It’s kind of a hypothetical situation. The most important thing is are we ready to go in the league right now — and certainly we can’t talk about a kind of would of, could of, should of situation,” Krystkowiak said. “But I would have liked to have had a stronger preseason, and I think moving forward you will see one in place for us as our program strengthens.”