SALT LAKE CITY — After Wednesday’s win over Arizona State, the Utah Utes are once again in position to do something they’ve yet to do since joining the Pac-12 last season — win back-to-back conference games.
Utah’s latest bid to do so, though, won’t be easy. The Utes (11-13, 3-9) take on No. 9 Arizona (20-4, 8-4) on Sunday. It’s just the second time since 2002 that they’ve hosted a top 10 team in the Huntsman Center.
“If you can’t get up for a game like that then I think you’ve got some issues,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak.
Although the Wildcats come to town on a two-game skid — having lost at home to California (77-69) and on the road at Colorado (71-58) — Krystkowiak isn’t downplaying his team's opponent. He expects the Wildcats to be ready to go.
“I think they’re one of the country’s best teams,” Krystkowiak said. “And whether they win the previous game or lose the previous game, I think we’re going to see a heckuva challenge in front of us.”
It’s not something the Utes are shying away from. They gave Arizona all it could handle Jan. 5 in Tucson before dropping a 60-57 decision.
“We were confident last time we played them and we’re going to go in with the same confidence,” said Utah freshman Jordan Loveridge. “It was a close game and a couple of calls didn’t go our way and the ball didn’t bounce our way. So we have all the faith in the world that we are going to have another good game versus them.”
Senior Jason Washburn recalls the three previous Pac-12 meetings with Arizona and expressed hope that the Utes would the one finishing on top this time around.
“They’re not going to come in here lackadaisical. They’re going to come in here looking to get their swag back, looking to show why they’re still a top team in the country,” Washburn said. “But we still feel we can beat them.”
Even so, he’s expecting a nail-biting type of game.
The Utes, after all, are pursuing uncharted waters. They’ve followed each of their other five Pac-12 victories with losses over the past two seasons. The sixth opportunity follows a 60-55 win over Arizona State on Wednesday.
Krystkowiak insists it’s something he hasn’t even thought about. Winning back-to-back Pac-12 games, he explained, is going to happen at some point.
“We are going to win multiple games in this league and when that happens, I don’t know. All I know is in order to win two in a row you have to win one,” Krystkowiak said. “So that’s what we’re focused on. Whether it’s the one that we won Saturday or the one that we have to win Sunday, that’s what makes a streak. So that’s the most important thing for us.”
The Utes, he added, are taking things in four-minute segments and not focusing in on the big picture.
Washburn, however, acknowledged that a win over Arizona would prove that they’re capable of playing with anyone in the conference. Winning back-to-back Pac-12 games, he continued, would also be appreciated.
“We haven’t done it yet. So it would feel great,” Washburn said. “Not just because it’s two wins in a row, but just because it’s another win. If it were to happen against Arizona, that’s another team who takes a bad loss on their NCAA tournament resume. Arizona’s probably going to go in either way but it’s still uplifting to us.”
Washburn noted that the Utes don’t have time right now to reflect on the “coulda, shoulda and woulda” of a season that includes losses by five points or less to the Wildcats, Arizona State and California in conference play. They can, however, take the good and bad of this week’s win over the Sun Devils into the game with Arizona.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, are also pursuing success.
“It’s never as bad as it seems and the sky isn’t falling,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said after Thursday’s loss to Colorado. “For all I know we can go to Utah, play a great game, then we have two home games after that and we get back on track. There aren’t a lot of teams right now that are headed where we’re headed and no question there’s bumps in the road over a long season.”
EXTRA STUFF: Both teams have three players scoring in double figures. Arizona’s trio includes Mark Lyons (15.2 ppg), Solomon Hill (13.9 ppg) and Nick Johnson (12.2 ppg). Utah counters with Loveridge (12.0 ppg), Jarred DuBois (11.9 ppg) and Washburn (11.6 ppg). ... The Utes lead the all-time series with the Wildcats 28-24, but Arizona has won the past six meetings. ... Former Utah Jazz guard Brevin Knight (2008-09) is on the Pac-12 Network broadcast team covering the game.
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company