Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to having a winning Pac-12 record, the Utah Utes have no margin of error. With four games left to play — Arizona and Colorado at home, California and Stanford on the road — they’re 6-8.
Although Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak acknowledged that they would like to win as many games as possible, the Utes aren’t shooting for a specific number of conference victories.
“We’ve used the analogy around here that it’s more about the journey than it is the destination,” he explained. “It’s just about trying to wake up and get a little better that day.”
Utah (17-9 overall) has already made measurable progress. The six league wins are the most the program has had since becoming a member of the Pac-12 in 2011-12. The Utes will shoot for win No. 7 Sunday night at home against the Arizona State Sun Devils (ESPNU, 6 p.m.).
“They’ve got a lot of pieces to the equation and they’re playing pretty well right now,” Krystkowiak said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”
ASU is led by sophomore guard Jahii Carson (18.8 points per game) and senior center Jordan Bachynski (4.4 blocks per game). Krystkowiak noted that the Sun Devils also have good shooters and wings in-between.
Utah dropped a 79-75 decision to ASU in Tempe, Ariz., on Jan. 23.
This meeting, however, comes at a stage of the season where teams are jockeying for position as next month’s Pac-12 tournament approaches. ASU entered the weekend in a fourth-place tie with California and Stanford. Utah entered tied with Washington for eighth. There’s a logjam in the middle of the conference standings with just three games separating fourth and 10th.
“Every win is important,” said Utah center Dallin Bachynski. “Every game is important.” Even so, Krystkowiak insists there’s more to it.
“I think when the season is over that’s when you look back and you maybe have some regrets — some games that slipped away — but that’s where the tally is,” he said. “I’ve never been a believer that you’re a better team than your record or a worse team than your record.”
The final result, Krystkowiak added, is an indication of where you are and where you’re supposed to be.
“It’s no secret that we feel like we’ve kind of let some slip away,” he said. “But the next one is Arizona State. Let’s try to get that one.”
Krystkowiak explained that Utah’s goals are more specific in terms of the short term — being competitive and playing their best basketball at the right time of the year.
“You can’t control what the other teams are doing, short of the one you are playing. A lot of it’s out of your hands. You’ve got the tiebreakers and all kinds of different things,” Krystkowiak said. “So I’ve kind of thought you better be careful what you wish for because you might wish yourself into a certain spot and then not want to be there.”
In other words, Krystkowiak noted, the Utes need to control what they can control.
Utah is 16-2 at home this season, losing only two overtime games — 70-68 to Oregon on Jan. 2 and 67-63 to Arizona last Wednesday.
EXTRA STUFF: Utah has seven straight wins at home against ASU. The Sun Devils haven’t defeated the Utes in Salt Lake City since 1975. ... ASU's Jordan Bachynski is five blocks away from breaking the single-season Pac-12 record he set in 2012-13 with 120 rejections. ... Utah is 9-0 this season when four players score 10 or more points.
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