LOS ANGELES — The Utah Utes are on the road again. They’re in California for games at UCLA on Thursday and USC on Sunday.
The trip is Utah’s first since sweeping the Oregon schools in late December. Prior to opening Pac-12 play, the Utes prepped for games away from the Huntsman Center by taking on UNLV in Las Vegas and later heading to Butler and BYU for games.
“We played in three pretty raucous environments,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who added that if you don’t do so in a preseason setting you can get a little shellshocked. “You want to try to experience the gamut, all the different things.”
Krystkowiak noted it’s a fine line between gaining confidence and really being challenged. Although Utah suffered double-digit setbacks in the non-conference road games, Krystkowiak believed it may have helped the Utes to go into those environments, get pounded, grow up and learn some lessons.
That’s why you play the preseason, he explained, to experience such things and do a better job handling it.
“So I thought our guys responded pretty well in Oregon but it’s not something you carry in your shaving kit. It’s not just an automatic deal,” Krystkowiak said. “You’ve got to earn it and be prepared. We’re going to jump in against a couple of different teams than the Oregon schools. It’s going to have a different storyline and we’re going to have to be ready.”
Senior forward David Collette acknowledged that going on the road is always tough. The Utes (10-5, 2-2) open this trip against first-place UCLA (12-4, 3-1) at Pauley Pavilion.
“Being on the road was kind of the first times in the preseason that we had been down and really faced some adversity,” Collette said. “So I think those helped us in the preseason to kind of figure out what we need to do to get a win on the road. We figured it out at Oregon and did a good job there. So I think that will help us carry over to this week.”
The Utes, though, are coming off losses to Arizona (94-82) and Arizona State (80-77) in the Huntsman Center. They followed the wins in Eugene (66-56) and Corvallis (66-64).
Getting back on track won’t be easy. The Bruins, for starters, present a formidable challenge.
“I know they’re really talented like they always are,” Krystkowiak said. “I know it’s a tough place to play and (there’s) a heck of a lot of tradition in that building.”
Krystkowiak noted that UCLA is a really balanced offensive team. Junior guard Aaron Holiday leads five players scoring in double-figures with 19.4 points per game. Senior center Thomas Welsh is averaging a double-double with 12.8 points and 11.1 rebounds,
“We’ve got to get ready to guard them and then obviously figure out how we can score,” Krystkowiak said. “But the focus at that place is to definitely try to figure out how to limit some of their opportunities to score.”
The Bruins average 85.6 points and nearly 41 rebounds per game. The latter is a big concern for Utah.
“We’ve been outrebounded in a bunch of games in a row and it’s not a good pattern,” said Krystkowiak, who explained that it’s a collective thing and each guy is being asked to do a better job of holding up their end of the bargain when it comes to securing rebounds.
Mistakes are coming in all shapes and sizes, he continued. Two Utes battling for a defensive rebound wound up tipping one in the basket against Arizona State.3 comments on this story
Krystkowiak stressed the importance of shoring it up with two hands, joking that Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain weren’t around to do otherwise.
EXTRA STUFF: UCLA leads the series with Utah, 9-7 ... The Bruins are 5-3 against the Utes as Pac-12 foes ... Bill Walton will be on the broadcast team for ESPN2 ... Utah tops the Pac-12 in defending the 3-point line. Opponents are shooting just 30.5 percent from beyond the arc.
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Utes on the air
Utah (10-5, 2-2)
at UCLA (12-4, 3-1)
Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
Thursday, 9 p.m. (MT)
Radio: ESPN 700AM