1 of 5
Scott G Winterton,
Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak gets after his players during a timeout as Utah and Northwestern State play an NCAA basketball game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017.
Hopefully the best is yet to come with our conference schedule. —Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak

EUGENE, Ore. — As Utah prepares to open its seventh season in the Pac-12 Friday night at Oregon, health is a concern for the Utes. Four players — Gabe Bealer, David Collette, Chris Seeley and Donnie Tillman — have injuries that kept them out of the Utes’ 84-62 win over Northwestern State in the non-conference finale on Dec. 20l

“We need to get that group back, the health of the group is important. Hopefully we’ll start catching a break in that regard,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said after the game. “Opening at Oregon is not going to be easy. The nature of injuries we have right now put you in a holding pattern.”

However, some progress has been made. Bealer (sore knee) and Collette (abdominal strain) have resumed practicing. Even so, each is considered a game-time decision against the Ducks.

Seeley (gallbladder) and Tillman (left foot) continue to be out with no timetable set for a return.

That said, the Utes (8-3) take on an Oregon team that is off to a 10-3 start — a season after reaching the NCAA Final Four. Sophomore guard Payton Pritchard leads the Ducks with 16.3 points and 4.6 assists per game.

Playing at Matthew Knight Arena is a challenge as well. Oregon had a 46-game winning streak at home until earlier this month.

Despite it all and expressing a need for better shooting and rebounding collectively, Krystkowiak noted things like Utah topping the conference in defending the 3-point line and leading the league in scoring defense.

Krystkowiak added that a lot of positive things are happening on defense. On offense, he pointed out that they’re not leaning on one individual specifically.

“I like where our guys are — we’re third in the conference in RPI, we’re third in strength of schedule — we’ve played a number of tough games and I think we’re ready for conference,” Krystkowiak said. “Hopefully the best is yet to come with our conference schedule.”

The experience of playing at Butler, BYU and UNLV helped get the Utes ready for Pac-12 play.

“To me, everything is somewhat in place,” Krystkowiak said.

The players are also eager to make the transition to Pac-12 contests. Senior forward Tyler Rawson said the Utes are ready to work on strengths and weaknesses over the Christmas break and get ready for conference.

“We’ve got a really good group of guys. We’ve said that a lot this year, but we really do,” Rawson said. “It a fun group to play with and the coaches love coming into practice every day and getting to work. It’s all about taking every day, one step at a time.”

Graduate transfer Justin Bibbins has added some veteran wisdom to the mix.

“We’re excited to get the conference going. We need to focus on ourselves, that’s the biggest point,” he said. “The competition is going to be up, just (getting) better every day. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We’ve just got to keep getting better each day.”

The Utes conclude their conference-opening weekend Sunday at Oregon State (8-4).

Pac-12 plays tips off with a major surprise in Arizona State. The Sun Devils, who were picked to finish sixth in the conference’s preseason poll, are 12-0 and ranked third in the nation. Projected frontrunner Arizona (10-3) is currently No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25.

*****

Pac-12 opener

Utah (8-3) at Oregon (10-3)

Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene

Friday, 8 p.m. (MT)

TV: FS1

Radio: ESPN 700AM

*****

Pac-12 capsules

ARIZONA WILDCATS

Record: 10-3, 0-0

Statistical leaders: Allonzo Trier (21.2 ppg); Deandre Ayton (11.4 rpg); and Parker Jackson-Cartwright (4.7 apg)

Best win: No. 7 Texas A&M, 67-64.

Worst loss: SMU, 66-60.

Fast fact: The Wildcats lost back-to-back games in non-conference play (North Carolina State, SMU) for the first time since 2011.

USC TROJANS

Record: 9-4, 0-0

Statistical leaders: Chimezie Metu (18.0 ppg); Chimezie Metu (7.9 rpg); and Jordan McLaughlin (7.8 apg).

Best win: New Mexico State, 77-72.

Worst loss: Princeton, 103-93 (OT).

Fast fact: The Trojans won the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii and enter Pac-12 play with three straight wins.

UCLA BRUINS

Record: 9-3, 0-0

Statistical leaders: Aaron Holiday (17.6 ppg); Thomas Welsh (10.7 rpg); and Aaron Holiday (5.6 apg)

Best win: No. 7 Kentucky, 83-75.

Worst loss: Creighton, 100-89.

Fast fact: The Bruins have already traveled more than 23,000 miles this season, more than half coming on a round trip to Shanghai.

OREGON DUCKS

Record: 10-3, 0-0

Statistical leaders: Payton Pritchard (16.3 ppg); Troy Brown (7.8 rpg); and Payton Pritchard (4.6 apg)

Best win: Fresno State, 68-61.

Worst loss: Connecticut, 71-63.

Fast fact: Boise State hit a half-court shot at the buzzer on Dec. 1 to snap Oregon’s 46-game win streak at home, the longest in the nation.

STANFORD CARDINAL

Record: 6-7, 0-0

Statistical leaders: Travis Reid (21.4 ppg); Michael Humphrey (8.5 rpg); and Daejon Davis (4.1 apg)

Best win: San Francisco, 71-59.

Worst loss: Eastern Washington, 67-61.

Fast fact: The Cardinal are 0-11 against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 over the past two seasons.

ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Record: 12-0, 0-0

Statistical leaders: Tra Holder (21.3 ppg); Romello White (8.6 rpg); and Tra Holder (4.8 apg)

Best win: No. 2 Kansas, 95-85.

Worst loss: None.

Fast fact: The surprising Sun Devils completed non-conference play without a loss. Wins include Kansas and No. 15 Xavier (102-86).

UTAH UTES

Record: 8-3, 0-0

Statistical leaders: David Collette (13.5 ppg); Tyler Rawson (6.5 rpg); and Justin Bibbins (4.5 apg)

Best win: Missouri, 77-59.

Worst loss: BYU, 77-65.

Fast fact: Utah has received a first-round bye (top four finish in the regular season) in the last three Pac-12 tournaments.

OREGON STATE BEAVERS

Record: 8-4, 0-0

Statistical leaders: Tres Tinkle (18.2 ppg); Tres Tinkle (7.2 rpg); and Jaquori McLaughlin (3.7 apg)

Best win: Saint Louis, 63-60.

Worst loss: Long Beach State, 74-69.

Fast fact: The Beavers went 1-17 in Pac-12 last season. Their only win came at home against Utah.

COLORADO BUFFALOES

Record: 8-4, 0-0

Statistical leaders: McKinley Wright IV (17 ppg); George King (8.3 rpg); and McKinley Wright IV (4.7 apg)

Best win: South Dakota State, 112-103 (3OT),

Worst loss: Colorado State, 72-63.

Fast fact: The Buffaloes lost four of their final six non-conference games, falling to CSU, No. 13 Xavier, San Diego and Iowa.

WASHINGTON HUSKIES

Record: 10-3, 0-0

Statistical leaders: Jaylen Nowell (16.9 ppg); Noah Dickerson (7.9 rpg); and David Crisp (3.5 apg)

Best win: No. 2 Kansas, 74-65.

Worst loss: Providence, 77-70.

Fast fact: First-year coach Mike Hopkins and the Huskies picked up a huge win over Kansas at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS

Record: 6-7, 0-0

Statistical leaders: Don Coleman (20.5 ppg); Marcus Lee (7.8 rpg); and Darius McNeill (2.6 apg)

Best win: San Diego State, 63-62.

Worst loss: Chaminade, 96-72.

Fast fact: After winning three straight games, Cal suffered a 25-point loss at home to Portland State in its non-conference finale.

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS

Record: 8-4, 0-0

Statistical leaders: Robert Franks (18.1 ppg); Drick Bernstine (7.6 rpg); and Malachi Flynn (4.4 apg)

Best win: No. 21 Saint Mary’s, 84-79.

Worst loss: UTEP, 76-69.

Fast fact: The Cougars opened the season with six straight wins before dropping three straight (UC Davis, Idaho, UTEP).

Email: dirk@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

Contributing: Mike Sorensen