SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak readily acknowledges that Thursday’s 84-66 win over USC was a pivotal game.
A loss would have put the Utes in a 1-4 hole in Pac-12 play. The positive outcome, though, gave them their second conference victory earlier than the previous two seasons they’ve been in the league.
In 2011-12, Utah was 1-5 before knocking off Arizona State on Jan. 21 for their second win. Last season, Pac-12 victory No. 2 didn’t come until Feb. 2 when the Utes — 1-7 at the time — upset Colorado.
This time around, things are different. Utah is pursuing its third league victory six games into the conference season. The Utes (13-4, 2-3) take on 25th-ranked UCLA Saturday (Fox Sports 1, 2 p.m.) in the Huntsman Center.
The improved situation is something Krystkowiak appreciates.
“It’s like one of those deals when you lose some of these close games you’re always preaching that ‘Hey, there’s a lot of basketball left, you know, you’ve got to hang in,’” he said. “That only works for so long before guys start with ‘Here we go again.’”
Krystkowiak praised the team’s approach after returning from Sunday’s 49-46 loss at Washington State. They were eager to get back on the practice court after reviewing the film — doing some things on their own.
“So you’ve got a group of guys that you want them to catch a break, you know, and you want some good things to happen,” Krystkowiak said. “So you don’t have to continue being down in the doldrums. It only goes so far, too, from our program point of view.”
Being competitive and coming close, he added, are no longer comforting.
The morning after Utah’s 70-68 overtime loss to 10th-ranked Oregon earlier this month, Krystkowiak received some encouraging words from a worker at a drive-thru window. He congratulated the coach on the effort, offering praise in the form of “good job, great and that’s awesome.”
Krystkowiak, though, was ready to move on: “I was just kind of like ‘Can I just get my coffee?’”
Winning, Krystkowiak explained, is what they’re all in it for: “So this does feel good,” he said.
EXTRA STUFF: Utah will honor its 1990 WAC championship team at Saturday’s game against UCLA . . . The Bruins, who are led by former New Mexico coach Steve Alford, defeated Colorado, 69-56 in Boulder, Colo., Thursday . . . Besides scoring a game-high 22 points against USC, Utah guard Delon Wright had six steals, six rebounds, five assists and two blocks. He was also 10-of-11 from the free throw line . . . Utah is 0-2 against UCLA since joining the Pac-12 — losing 76-49 in Los Angeles in 2011-12 and 57-53 last season in Salt Lake City . . . Thursday’s win over USC was the Utes’ 10th Pac-12 victory since joining the conference.