TUCSON, Ariz. — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak isn’t looking back. He’s putting losses like Wednesday’s 55-54 overtime setback at Arizona State in the rearview mirror.
“It’s past tense, and we’re not going to sit here and think about it,” Krystkowiak said as the Utes (8-5, 0-1) prepare for Saturday’s game at third-ranked Arizona (13-0, 1-0).
Krystkowiak, however, is determined to continue fixing what is broken as Utah seeks its first conference win on the road in nearly two years. He acknowledged there were some breakdowns in execution against the Sun Devils. The McKale Center presents even more challenges.
The Wildcats have a lot of great players, Krystkowiak said, and they’re real sound defensively.
And there’s more to combat.
“The environment in Arizona is going to be an intense one with a packed house and a pretty big stage,” Krystkowiak said. “So we don’t have much room for error.”
Such was the case last February when an undermanned Utah squad gave a spirited effort at Arizona. Although the Wildcats prevailed by a 70-61 margin, the game was much closer than the final score indicated. It was tied until Nick Johnson put them on top for good on a 3-pointer with 1:24 remaining.
The Utes led by as many as 13 points in the first half, employing a zone defense that kept the Wildcats struggling on offense.
Utah guard Cedric Martin, who shared team-high scoring honors with center Jason Washburn that day with 15, acknowledged it was one of the Utes’ best games of last year’s 6-25 campaign.
“We just came in with heart, energy and we just fought through the whole game,” Martin said. “If we come with the same mindset that Coach put in our minds last year, going into the game, I think we’ll have a good chance of being successful playing against that team.”
Things, though, are different this time around. Martin and Washburn are the only returnees for Utah that saw action in that game. Arizona, meanwhile, has since climbed back into the national elite.
“They definitely weren’t the team they were today and neither are we,” Washburn said. “I think both teams made drastic improvements in almost all areas.”
As such, Krystkowiak isn’t putting any stock in last year’s game in Tucson. His thoughts are firmly focused on the present.
“They’re a different team. We’re a different team,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s a whole different stage, but I’m confident that this team can go in and compete. That’s probably the most important thing.”
The new-look Utes have already exceeded last season’s win total and have held second-half leads in four of their five losses this time around.
“I have confidence that we can go in there and compete with our team,” Krystkowiak said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with what we’ve done before.”
Martin and Washburn are also confident that the Utes can give the Wildcats a battle. Martin made note of how they handled Wednesday’s disappointing loss at Arizona State.
“It’s frustrating, but we got back in the locker room and we kept our heads high,” he said. “We weren’t pouting and we weren’t trying to put the blame on anybody.”
Martin added that the Utes just need to know how to capitalize on certain situations more often in order to achieve more success.
“We still have a long season to go and we’ll keep learning from every game and try to keep moving forward,” he said.
Washburn, who had a monster game against ASU with 19 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, expects Arizona to come out and try to put the Utes down early.
“We’re going to have to keep our composure. We know they’re going to make shots. They’re going to go on runs,” he said. “We’ve just got to douse fires and light a few of our own, give ourselves a chance win in the end. If we can do that, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Plus, there’s a little something to add from Utah’s previous trip to Tucson — a certain approach and mindset.
“Coach is a great motivator,” Washburn said. “He’ll find a way to get our guys going.”
Utah (8-5, 0-1) at No. 3 Arizona (13-0, 1-0)
McKale Center, Tucson
Saturday, 3 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN 700AM