SALT LAKE CITY — Despite quick departures from both the Pac-12 Tournament and NIT, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak insists the program is moving forward.
“I do feel like we made some progress. As far as a grade or report card or anything like that, I don’t know,” he said. “But our younger kids grew. We’ve got work to do. A number of these kids are back. So we’ll just kind of decompress right now and sort it all out.”
Tuesday’s 73-68 loss to Boise State in the first round of the NIT put an end to Utah’s season. The Utes finished 20-12 overall, highlighted by a fourth-place finish (behind top 10 teams Arizona, Oregon and UCLA) in Pac-12 play.
Other achievements include a fourth consecutive 20-win season and a third straight winning conference record.
It ended, though, with two straight losses — beginning with the tourney setback to California in Las Vegas
“The sun will come up tomorrow, just like it did after the Cal game,” Krystkowiak said. “You just learn from it. Nobody said it was going to be easy.”
Boise State certainly made things difficult down the stretch Tuesday night in the Huntsman Center. The Broncos rallied in the final 6:09 to earn the victory. Utah missed nine shots in a row in the midst of the decisive stretch.
“We knew we had to play our hearts out to win this game,” said Boise State coach Leon Rice.
Guard Chandler Hutchison wound up with 34 points, marking the fourth time this season that someone scored 31 or more against the Utes this season.
“That’s not exactly something that I’m proud of. I know our coaching staff is not proud of, to not have the ability to lock down on somebody when they are the head of the snake and makes them go,” Krystkowiak said. “I mean, he made some really difficult shots, kind of got himself going and we didn’t step and make plays. But he’s a terrific ballplayer.”
Hutchison’s scoring, 16 Ute turnovers and an abundance of missed shots near the rim added up to Utah’s NIT ouster.
“When you look at what took place in the game I’m not surprised,” Krystkowiak said of the variables that ultimately doomed the Utes.
Kyle Kuzma finished with a team-high 21 points. The junior forward, who was a Pac-12 first-team all-conference honoree, may have played his final game for the Utes.
“This whole year I haven’t really thought about the NBA. But, I mean, you never know really. I’ve still got to get healthy. I’ve been playing the past 20 games on a shredded ankle,” Kuzma said. “I’ve got to get healthy first before I think about anything. But now is the time to think about that. I can’t really give you an answer right now.”
Kuzma acknowledged that he’ll probably explore his options. Krystkowiak said that they haven’t received a lot of the data yet that the NBA provides in the decision-making process.
“I want what’s best for Kyle. I always have and I do for everybody on our team,” he explained. “I’ve had those discussions with Delon (Wright) and Jakob (Poeltl) in the past and we’ll get feedback from various teams on that type of thing. But I’m never going to hold anybody back.”