LOS ANGELES — It remains to be seen if the Utah Utes will have any sort of an inside edge when it comes to winning a road game this week. They visit USC Thursday and UCLA Saturday armed with three starters — Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker and Delon Wright — who are from the Los Angeles area.
“We’re all talking about how crazy it’ll be playing in those two arenas,” said Wright, who acknowledged it’ll be a little bit surreal being at venues they visited while growing up. “We’re just going to enjoy the moment.”
Make no mistake about it, though, this is business trip. It’s been more than a year since the Utes have won a road game, and any hopes of securing an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament may rest on winning a couple of games on opposing floors by season’s end.
“It’s a fine line for us. I think we’ve got to start playing our best basketball at this time of the year, regardless, for any committee, for our benefit to get ready for Vegas,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said while looking ahead to next month’s Pac-12 Tournament. “We’ve got seven ballgames left before Las Vegas, and our mission statement is not really going to change from any year that we’ve been here.”
The Utes, he added, are going to keep on trying to improve. There’s certainly room to do so on the road. They’ve lost 11 straight games on opposing teams' home courts, including 10 straight against Pac-12 foes.
“We’ve just got to make some plays offensively and defensively,” Krystkowiak said. “There’s a lot of elements to the game — nothing magical and no huge point of emphasis — just having some poise and some maturity and figuring out a way to get it done.”
Utah has certainly had its share of close calls. The Utes’ five conference losses on the road this season have come by a combined 22 points. Nine came in a setback at Arizona and another four in an overtime shortcoming at Colorado.
“I think every team has a different story and we don’t read everybody else’s story. We’re just involved with ours and we know we’ve let a number of games slip away,” Krystkowiak said. “Hopefully we’ve learned from it and we’re ready to make some plays now.”
Krystkowiak went on to say that he’s a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and is hopeful that the tough lessons will pay off at the right time.
As such, Krystkowiak is determined not to let the Utes take anything for granted. It matters little that USC is the last-place team in the Pac-12 and is just 1-4 in the Galen Center in conference play.
“Anybody in our league, I think, is proven to be competitive on any given night. The University of Utah is not in position to feel like we’ve got any kind of advantage in this game,” he said. “So it’s shame on us if anybody’s thinking about those kind of things. We’ve got to be ready to go on Thursday.”
Krystkowiak, however, isn’t putting all the weight of the world on the outcome, either.
“I can’t tell the kids, ‘Hey, if you win this game against the Trojans we’re going to be an NCAA Tournament team.’ It’s a little bit of rubbish to create that,” Krystkowiak explained. “But what we can control is trying to get a ‘W’ and hoping that things line up in our favor when the time is right.”
Speaking of right, er, Wright, he’s hoping to have it all on his first trip to his hometown with the Utes.
“It’ll be real exciting. I get to see a lot of family. Some of them haven’t seen me play since high school in person. So it’ll be real fun,” Wright said. “I’ve been looking forward to it. It’s been circled on my calendar. So it’ll be real special.”
EXTRA STUFF: Utah is seeking its school-record sixth Pac-12 regular-season win since joining the league in 2011-12. Wright is just one of four players in the Pac-12 to have scored in double-figures in every conference game this season. USC junior guard Byron Wesley is averaging 21.8 points per game over his last four outings. Wright and Jordan Loveridge ranked first and third, respectively, in the conference in minutes played. Wright averaged 45.8 minutes per game, while Loveridge is logging 34.9. USC leads the all-time series with Utah, 17-16. The Utes topped the Trojans 84-66 in Salt Lake City on Jan. 16.
Utah (16-7, 5-6) at USC (10-13, 1-9)
Galen Center, Los Angeles
Thursday, 8:30 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Networks