LAS VEGAS — Although he didn’t necessarily think it would be in the opening round, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak had a “sneaking suspicion” that the Utes would face USC in the Pac-12 tournament. It’s a feeling he had ever since the Trojans left the Huntsman Center with a 76-59 victory on Jan. 12.
“We’re going to have our hands full,” Krystkowiak said as the teams gear up for a rematch Wednesday night (Pac-12 Networks, 7 p.m.) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Krystkowiak noted that both teams have improved since the first meeting. USC, though, will look vastly different without power forward Dewayne Dedmon. The 7-foot junior, who had 13 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks in the game in Salt Lake City, has been suspended indefinitely by interim USC coach Bob Cantu. Dedmon was reportedly involved in an assault early Sunday morning in Spokane, Wash., following the Trojans’ loss to Washington State.
Cantu told the Daily Trojan that the team had a great practice with a lot energy and enthusiasm Monday.
“It’s time to move forward and see what we can do about winning on Wednesday,” Cantu said to the newspaper.
As good as Dedmon is, Krystkowiak expects somebody to pick up the slack in terms of points and rebounds for USC.
“They’re going to be ready to go so we don’t think too much about what happened,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got to play whoever shows up for them. They’ve got a lot of talented players, so it might be an opportunity for some other guys that they’ve been waiting for.”
The Trojans may opt to go small and use 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward Eric Wise in the middle.
“They could really try to run us up and down the court,” said Utah center Jason Washburn. “If anything it presents another problem. We’ve got to be ready to handle whatever they throw at us.”
As such, Washburn explained that the Utes aren’t going to take anything for granted.
“We still have to keep the mindset of being aggressive and attacking them,” he said.
Following Tuesday’s practice at nearby Durango High School, Krystkowiak praised his team for being a “pretty mature group.” He expects that to combat some of the nervousness and anticipation that often accompanies tournament play.
“Everything’s in. It’s not like we’re scrambling,” Krystkowiak said. “There’s obviously going to be some adjustments come game time. We wouldn’t know how they’re starting and various things like that with a new lineup. So there’s a few question marks, but I feel pretty good with where we’re at.”
The Utes enter the tournament on a positive note. They’ve won back-to-back Pac-12 games for the first time since joining the conference in 2011-12. A year ago, they suffered a 94-48 setback at Oregon just prior to the tourney.
“It feels different. I think we feel like we’re more competitive,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got a better opportunity to compete.”