SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s lack of success away from the Huntsman Center has hit a critical juncture. Now that the Utes (16-7, 5-6) are assured of the program’s first non-losing season since 2008-09, they’ll most likely need a win or two on an opposing floor to garner serious NCAA tournament consideration if they don't prevail in next month's Pac-12 tourney in Las Vegas.
Problem is, it’s been a problem to do so. Utah has lost 11 consecutive road games dating back to last season. The skid includes 10 straight road setbacks in Pac-12 play — five this year by a combined total of 22 points, with one loss coming in overtime.
“I’m not going to make any excuses,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “I don’t think the (NCAA) committee is going to be excited about the fact that we were woulda, coulda and almost won those games on the road.”
At the end of the day, he added, they were losses — even if no one has whipped the Utes on the road.
“We’ve been competitive in some games on the road,” Krytskowiak said. “We’ve got to figure out how to get a win.”
The next opportunities to do so come Thursday at last-place USC and Saturday at UCLA. After that, the lone chances to claim victories on the road before the Pac-12 tournament in neutral site Las Vegas come next month at California and Stanford.
Time is running short.
“It’s so critical, more than we probably realize,” said junior guard Delon Wright. “But if we can finish out this half of the Pac-12 with some road wins I think we’ll have a real shot at the tournament or any other postseason tournament. So I think it’s real critical that we get this one starting off.”
The pressure, Wright admits, is on.
“We did this to ourselves coming up short on some of these games,” he said. “I think it’s pressure we can handle. So we’ll be ready for it.”
SUBDUED CELEBRATION: When reminded that Utah had already surpassed last season’s win total of 15, Krystkowiak jokingly raised his arms above his head and mumbled “confetti,” “fireworks,” and “Shazam.”
Krystkowiak, though, is far from satisfied at this point.
“It’s more about us continuing to improve and rolling, trying to get this going at the right time,” he said
FIRESIDE CHAT: Krystkowiak was the guest speaker at an LDS Church Institute of Religion fireside Sunday evening.
“It was really cool,” said Krystkowiak, who spoke for nearly an hour despite acknowledging that public speaking is a bit nerve-racking for him. “It was a lot of fun. I met some great people.”
Utah (16-7, 5-6) at USC (10-13, 1-9)
Galen Center, Los Angeles
Thursday, 8:30 p.m., MT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: 700 AM