I’m not going to be a whiner and a complainer and look for excuses. I just know that Sunday games, in and of themselves, are a challenge. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak wasn’t kidding when he called it a “month of Sundays.” For the Utes, it’s true. They’re taking the court for the fourth straight Sunday, facing Washington State in the Huntsman Center.
“I’m not going to be a whiner and a complainer and look for excuses. I just know that Sunday games, in and of themselves, are a challenge. People need a day off, a legitimate day off, and, to me, I’ve always been hard-wired for that to be Sunday,” Krystkowiak said. “There’s a lot of history about having that day off. This will be our fourth consecutive Sunday game.”
Krystkowiak added that he loves what he does and the kids love being a part of it, but it’s difficult when they don’t get a day off. Monday may be free of practice, but the players still have school. The schedule, he continued, can be a little bit wacky — involving games from Wednesday to Sunday. The trips can be especially hard.
“It’s something we probably need to take a close look at. The fact that we have one less day on the back end to prep if a team didn’t play Sunday. That means they take Sunday off and they’ve got days,” Krystkowiak said. “So it hasn’t worked our great for us. Again, I’m not going to be a whiner. It’s just, personally, I think we should probably get something in there that says you can only play so many Sunday games in a row. I’d like to think that magic number might be two.”
“So it’s totally based upon that pecking order,” Hill said.
Washington State (9-9, 1-5) at Utah (11-7, 3-4)
Sunday, 6 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700AM
Krystkowiak acknowledged that it’s been a challenge. The Utes are 1-2 in this year’s stretch — prevailing at Oregon State, but losing games to Arizona State at home and to USC on the road.
Television is behind the Sunday scheduling. Utah athletics director Chris Hill explained that conference broadcast partners ESPN and FOX make their selections and then the Pac-12 does its decision-making.
The Pac-12 has televised games, usually on ESPNU, each Sunday during the nine weeks of conference play.
Washington State has five Sunday games, while Utah and USC have four. The Cougars and the Utes, though, are the only teams that have stretches of four consecutive weeks of losing out on a weekend day of rest (no practice or school).
By comparison, Arizona has no Sunday games, and Oregon State is playing just one. The rest of the conference has two or three.
“I know that TV determines all these type of games, but I’d be less than honest to not say that it’s difficult for our student-athletes and difficult for our fans,” Hill said. “I don’t think there’s a conspiracy theory — but at the same time — it’s disappointing that we’re in this position this year.”
All four of Utah’s Thursday opponents that followed Sunday games by the Utes played the previous Saturday — giving them extra time to rest and prepare.
Hill wants to put a couple of things on the table that address the issue at the conference meetings this spring and see if a consensus can be reached. He prefaced his comments by insisting that by no means did he want to criticize the league.
“There’s no question, for me, that this can become a disadvantage for student-athletes academically and also for their rest and just their lifestyle to have a weekend day off,” Hill said.
For now, it is what it is. Utah’s focus is on continuing momentum gained in Thursday’s 80-72 win over Washington. It snapped a four-game losing streak and ended a run of six straight Pac-12 games where the Utes were out-rebounded.
Justin Bibbins led the charge with a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds. The senior point guard also had five assists.
The Utes (11-7, 3-4) now face Washington’s travel partner.
Washington State (9-9, 1-5) dropped an 82-73 decision at Colorado on Thursday.
“The altitude did not bother us at all. We pushed these guys pretty good before we got here. I didn’t think that was a factor at all. I think what bothered us was just playing tough,” said Washington State coach Ernie Kent. “The second game of the trip is difficult. I have been through this before, but we just need to regroup and come back at Utah and see how we play.”
Junior forward Robert Franks leads Washington State with 17.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Malachi Flynn averages 14.8 points and 4,1 assists.
EXTRA STUFF: Utah leads the all-time series with Washington State 21-4. The Utes have won the last seven meetings. The Cougars are 1-15 in Salt Lake City and haven’t won here since 1946. Utah’s next three games are on the road — at Arizona State (Thursday), at Arizona (Saturday) and at Colorado (Feb. 2).