SALT LAKE CITY — Utah emerged from a busy season-opening schedule with a 5-1 record. The Utes played all the games within a two-week span, ending with last Friday’s 85-69 win over Eastern Washington.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said he thinks the team is in a good place and added that “everyone has come up for some air” during a lengthy gap between games. The Utes return to Saturday at home against Hawaii.
“When you look back, that’s not an easy stretch,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s kind of the same mantra that you have all the time. You just keep chopping wood, and you wake up and you kind of know you’re in the middle of a tough stretch. But you can’t feel sorry for yourself.”
Utah tipped things off with victories at home over Prairie View A&M, Mississippi Valley State and Missouri. Then came a tournament split in Las Vegas, a win over Mississippi and a loss to UNLV. That was followed by the Huntsman Center triumph last week.
“We’re ready to play. We should have had three more games by now,” joked senior forward David Collette.
That said, the Utes weathered the storm well. They didn’t mind playing so often.
“It actually wasn’t that bad. We’re all young and ready to play,” Collette said. “That’s the kind of stuff we love, and that’s what we are here for. So, for us, it was just a lot of fun.”
Junior guard Parker Van Dyke also didn’t think it was too bad.
“We’ve got a great support system here to keep us healthy and to keep us prepared and ready for each game,” he said, while acknowledging that not many college teams play such a schedule. “I think we were physically in condition to do it.”
Krystkowiak explained that the Utes blended rest and efficiency during the stretch. He said that their practice setting is typically more about quality than quantity. They watched a lot of film and absorbed as much basketball as they could on and off the court.
During the current eight-day gap between games, Krystkowiak said, they’ll stay sharp with by simulating a couple of scrimmage environments in practice.
GETTING REBOUNDS: Krystkowiak noted that rebounding is something the Utes need to improve upon. They’re currently outrebounding the opposition by just five boards (39.7-34.7) per game.
“There’s some people that just need to keep their guy from getting it. I’m not really asking you to get a bunch of rebounds, but please make sure that your guy doesn’t get it. So that’s a success,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got guys that want nothing to do with blocking out somebody and really making sure their guy doesn’t get it. There’s other people that probably don’t need to worry so much about a block out. But they just need to be in the right position.”
Guard Justin Bibbins, who is 5-foot-8, led the Utes with eight rebounds against Eastern Washington.
“Good for Justin,” Krystkowiak said. “But I don’t know if that’s exactly the recipe for success.”
Collette noted that things will just get more difficult.
“We’re going to start playing better teams that have bigger guys that are better rebounders,” he said. “So it needs to develop as we go through the season.”
LIFE WITHOUT KUZ: Utah is off to a strong start this season despite losing Kyle Kuzma to the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers.
“Kyle was a big loss for us, a great player. But I think when one guy leaves, you know, some other guys have to step up,” said Van Dyke, who noted the addition of players like Bibbins and Donnie Tillman, as well as the improvement of everyone else. “So we’ve been able to pick up the slack, but it does hurt when you lose a great, great guy and a great player like Kuzma.”