We’ve had some pretty nice resilience about us. Guys are realizing if we bring effort and play hard we have a chance. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak
SALT LAKE CITY — Saturday evening when coach Larry Krystkowiak was asked about another “typical” performance because of the way his scrappy bunch fought back only to lose by one point to No. 11 Arizona, he was quick to remind that his team hasn’t always played that way this year.
How about the 27-point loss to UNLV early in the year, the double-digit loss to BYU and decisive back-to-back losses to UCLA and USC by 19 and 17 points just a couple of weeks ago.
“We’ve had games, like Southern California — that was an eye-opener,” he said. “I thought we quit when we got punched in the mouth.”
Since that clunker to USC, however, the Utes have played very well, winning a pair of home games against Washington and Washington State, a big road victory over 21st-ranked Arizona State Thursday night and Saturday’s near-win at Arizona.
“We’ve had some pretty nice resilience about us,” Krystkowiak said. “Guys are realizing if we bring effort and play hard we have a chance.”
A big factor in the Utes’ improved performances of late has been the play of junior guard Sedrick Barefield. In those two games in Los Angeles, Barefield was 1 for 11 from the field for four points, and he followed that with a two-point game against Washington on 0-for-5 shooting.
At that point, Krystkowiak came up with the idea of sitting Barefield at the start of games and bringing him off the bench in a sixth-man role. And it’s worked.
In the last three games, Barefield has averaged 19 points a game on 17-of-28 shooting, including 8 of 13 from 3-point range. He’s also made 15 of 16 free throws.
Krystkowiak was especially pleased with Barefield’s 26-point performance against Arizona when he was more under control.
“That’s what we’ve been talking to Sedrick about,” he said. “A lot of times it’s got too much dribble and attack moves and fancy stuff built into it. He’s a strong quick guard and he’s starting to use those attributes he was given and getting in a straight line mode where he’s putting some heat on people. That was an example tonight. Instead of a crossover, behind-the-back spin dribble and all that kind of stuff he was pretty efficient and made some stuff happen, and his confidence was good.”
The Utes have been starting junior guard Parker Van Dyke in place of Barefield, and though Van Dyke isn’t known as a scoring threat, he came up with key 3-pointers late in the game against both Arizona State and Arizona. Barefield was playing so well against Arizona that Krystkowiak switched things up and started him in the second half as he played 19 second-half minutes and 33 for the game.
“It’s all about staying ready,” Barefield said. “It proves to me that I’m capable and I have to keep my head right and stay ready.”
Next up for Utah (13-8, 5-5) is a matchup with Colorado (12-10, 4-6) Friday night in Boulder. This is the first time in over a month the Utes didn’t have a Sunday game, so they’ll have a little bit more breathing room this week, particularly with a game on Friday. And they’re more confident after this weekend’s games.
“I’m proud of this team,” Barefield said. “Today and the game before shows a lot who we are and our fight and the characteristics we take on from our coaching staff and coach K.”
“We’re definitely getting better defensively as a team, “ added Donnie Tillman, who had seven points off the bench against Arizona. “We’re all healthy, we’re trying to get some big wins, we’ve got Arizona State, could have had Arizona. Let’s finish out the rest of this Pac-12 league and get a winning record.”