Matt Gade, Deseret News
BERKELEY, Calif. — In the aftermath of Wednesday’s 63-59 win at California, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak admitted that the Utes would “enjoy this one tonight.”
However, the celebration promises to be short-lived and tempered. Saturday’s game at Stanford (12:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) carries Pac-12 seeding and possible NCAA Tournament implications.
“I’ve asked the guys to stay humble and hungry and see what we can do against the Cardinal,” Krystkowiak said after emerging from the locker room at Haas Pavilion.
Make no mistake about it, though, there was great joy after the Utes picked up their second road win of the season and reached the 20-win mark for the first time since 2008-09.
“It’s a little bit more than satisfying right now,” said Utah guard Brandon Taylor. “We worked hard, though. I think we had an unbelievable week of practice to be honest with you. We really got after it.”
Krystkowiak acknowledged that he really likes the way his team is playing as of late. He noted the “daunting task” the Utes faced in their final five games of the regular season. They’re 3-1, thus far, having lost to Arizona in overtime before reeling off consecutive victories over Arizona State, Colorado and now Cal.
In the latter, Krystkowiak was especially pleased that his squad outrebounded the Bears 39-34 and turned the ball over just six times.
“Those have been a couple of key points that we’ve talked about throughout the course of the year,” he said.
The Utes came together as a team, Taylor noted, when the Bears made their runs. They did so by making plays on offense and defense down the stretch.
Trailing 50-48 with 3:27 left to play, Utah went on a 9-0 run and held Cal scoreless for nearly three minutes. The Utes, who benefitted from a trio of 3-pointers by Taylor in the second half, withstood a late challenge by making eight free throws in the final 42 seconds.
“It felt real good,” said Utah guard Delon Wright, who wound up with 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. “This might be one of our best wins of the year just because of the timing and what we’re playing for.”
Although the Utes have their sights set on bigger prizes, Krystkowiak said that getting 20 wins was noteworthy.
“I’d be lying if I said I thought it was going to happen,” he explained, adding that the win milestone of sorts has never been a goal. “It’s one of those numbers like turning 50, you know, it hits you. It’s one of those markers in basketball that people talk about.”
Other topics of discussion are also heating up around the Utes, such as whether or not they deserve to be in the Big Dance.
“Of course we’re an NCAA team,” Taylor said. “Of course.”
As such, he vows they’ll give it all they have in Saturday’s regular-season finale at Stanford.
Wright thinks the game against the Cardinal will be even bigger than the contest at Cal.
“Every game from now on is like win or go home. That’s how we’re taking it,” he said. “So we’re going to come out with some energy in the Stanford game.”
There’s plenty of momentum to do so.
Even so, Krystkowiak declined to say if the victory at Cal was the biggest in his three-year tenure at Utah,
“It feels really good, though. The kids have been busting it. It’s always nice when you’re on the road,” he said after Utah prevailed on a conference opponent’s home floor for just the third time since joining the Pac-12 in 2011-12. “This is kind of a new sensation for us — to have a few days before we play again and to be able to feel some of that positive medicine that you get from a ‘W.’ ”
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