Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — USC and UCLA visit the Huntsman Center this week as Pac-12 play resumes for the Utah Utes. They’ll face the Trojans and Bruins with three starters from the Los Angeles area — Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker and Delon Wright.
“It’s a big deal. I grew up watching these teams,” Wright said. “It’s going to be real special because I know a lot of players that have played through those programs, so it’s going to be good.”
For the record, Wright admits he was a fan of UCLA basketball and USC football while growing up.
“I used to switch it up,” he said.
Taylor and Tucker, however, are downplaying the significance of this week’s games from that perspective.
“I wasn’t really a fan of either one of them,” Taylor said of the schools Utah faces Thursday and Saturday. “I liked them both. But I wasn’t like a fan of any one in particular.”
As such, Taylor looks at USC and UCLA as conference games against teams that just happen to be from his hometown.
“That’s all,” he said.
Even so, Taylor acknowledged that both the programs are good and it’s good to be in the Pac-12 with them.
“I grew up watching USC and for me to be in the same conference and playing in the same gym as like USC is kind of crazy to me,” he said.
Tucker admitted that he wanted to go to USC when he was younger — it was his dream school at one time — but things didn’t come his way.
“It’s not really a big deal for me. It’s just another team,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where I’m from or who I’m playing. I wasn’t heavily recruited by them so it really doesn’t matter. It’s just another team we’ve got to play against.”
When pressed, though, Tucker admitted that it’s cool to play USC but insists it’s not a big deal. As for UCLA, he made it clear the Bruins were never a team he liked while growing up.
At 1-3 in Pac-12 play, it’s a pivotal stretch for the Utes. They head to Arizona State and top-ranked Arizona next week.
Looking ahead, though, isn’t part of the plan.
“You still have to look at it one game at a time. There are no games that you look past. There’s not a game you’re going to look over,” Taylor said. “You still take it one game at a time — get the victory and execute our game plan.”
Wright agreed that the Utes have to remain focused on the task at hand and approach it with the same intensity.
“It’s just more important to get these wins now since we fell behind to 1-3,” he said. “So I think it’s like we’ve got to have some urgency and get these wins. It’s very important.”
COACH K FOCUSED: When Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak was asked if he thought a .500 record in Pac-12 play would get his team into the “Big Dance,” the third-year leader of the Utes dismissed any thoughts about looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament at this time.
“I have no idea. No idea. I’m not even concerned about the Big Dance at this point. I’m just trying to figure out how to put USC,” Krystkowiak said. “So we’ll add them all up when it’s over with. We won’t have a whole lot of control over it, short of trying to win the next game.”
DRAWING A CROWD: Krystkowiak didn’t mince words when asked about Utah ranking second in the Pac-12 in attendance. The Utes are drawing 9,551 per game — trailing only Arizona (14,358).
“I absolutely love it,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s really cool.”
Krystkowiak added that it’s real rewarding that people are coming out and watching.
EXTRA STUFF: The Utah basketball program has unveiled a new website, mainly for recruiting purposes, at www.runninutes.com. Thursday is the annual “Blackout Game” and fans are encourage to wear black gear. Tipoff against USC is set for 8 p.m. Utah is honoring its 1990s championship teams at Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against UCLA.
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