Utah basketball: Utah, Washington set to square off in Pac-12 tournament opener
Matt Gade, Deseret News
LAS VEGAS — Larry Krystkowiak doesn’t mince words when it comes to postseason play. As Utah prepares for Wednesday’s Pac-12 tournament opener against Washington, the third-year coach of the Utes isn’t masking his emotions.
“Boy, I’m nervous. I’ve always loved this time of year, but I get nervous watching the high school state tournament,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s just kind of the culmination of a long year all coming to a head here.”
Viva, Las Vegas!
The Utes and Huskies, who split two meetings this season and finished with identical 9-9 conference records, tip things off with the tournament’s opening game.
“Nothing like getting the butterflies out of your system right away rather than sitting in the hotel room waiting to play your game,” Krystkowiak continued. “It’s on. We’ve got a pretty good plan. I’m really proud of the kids and what we’ve accomplished up to this point. And now we’ve got some larger goals to try to reach.”
Having secured the program’s first winning season since 2008-09, Utah is chasing the Pac-12’s automatic berth in the upcoming NCAA tournament — awarded to whoever prevails this week in Vegas.
“We know there’s one way to get into the NCAA tournament at his point and that starts with Washington,” Krystkowiak said. “So it’s an exciting time of year for us. But it’s definitely in the moment here and now. We don’t have many discussions about hypothetical committee rooms or anything like that.”
The situation is pretty simple, really.
“You lose, you go home. For some teams it’s going to be sad to end their season,” said Utah forward Jordan Loveridge. “But I feel like we have a great chance to win this tournament, as a lot of teams do. It’ll be a fun tournament.”
Whoever prevails in the tournament opener gets to play top seed Arizona on Thursday.
Loveridge, though, insists Utah’s focus is on Washington. He said the Huskies are a great team.
“So we’ve just got to worry about our first game before we think ahead down the road,” Loveridge added.
Teammate Delon Wright agreed, noting that the Utes aren’t worried about Arizona because they have to get past Washington.
“It’s a good matchup. It’ll be on a neutral site. Our seasons are dependent on this win,” Wright said. “So I know we’ll both be up for the game and be ready to compete.”
Sophomore guard Brandon Taylor made it clear that no one is fretting about the situation.
“You can’t worry about that,” he said. “You can’t overlook a team like Washington and stuff like that. So we’ve got to focus on Washington first and get that victory, then focus on the second game.
Washington defeated Utah 59-57 in Seattle on Jan. 8. The Utes won the rematch, 78-69, in Salt Lake City on Feb. 6.
In reviewing the games, Krystkowiak said the Huskies were the better team in the first outing. The Utes, he explained, were pretty sloppy in the second game and fortunate to win.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Krystkowiak, who noted that they were able to get some transition baskets and push the ball inside a little bit when the teams played in the Huntsman Center. He added that Washington missed a number of open shots that day, something Utah can’t bank on the Huskies doing again.
“Everybody has got to be a better player this time of year,” Krystkowiak said.
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