TUCSON, Ariz. — After the Utah Utes completed a short practice at the McKale Center Friday, several members of the team stopped by a TV on the way out of the arena. They caught a few seconds of their 96-86 win at Arizona State being replayed on the Pac-12 Network.
Hours earlier, up in Tempe, the Utes opened Pac-12 play in improbable fashion — rallying from 17 points down, the largest comeback since Larry Krystkowiak became the head coach in 2011-12.
Sedrick Barefield, who finished with a game-high 24 points, noted the importance of the victory. It followed a 6-6 mark by the Utes in non-conference games.
“This was huge, man. I believe in this team,” Barefield said. “I keep saying it, like through thick and thin, I believe in this team. I believe in what we’ve got.”
Utah had plenty against the Sun Devils. Donnie Tillman had 22 points, while Timmy Allen and Parker Van Dyke added 17 and 13, respectively. The Utes made 16 3-pointers and outrebounded ASU 38-34.
“I feel good about the way our guys played and absorbed a lot of the things, made some improvements,” Krystkowiak said.
It remains to be seen, though, if the Utes have turned the corner, so to speak.
“I’ve always tried to avoid extremes. It’s a good momentum win, you know, a confidence win,” he said. “But it can’t be a turning point in the season if we don’t see where we turn to. There’s a lot of hoops left.”
Krystowiak reiterated that it’s a grind and a marathon.
“I feel good about what the guys did and accomplished,” he continued. “But we’ve got our hands full and it’s always about the next one as you know.”
Saturday at noon, Utah takes on Arizona at the McKale Center. The Utes haven’t defeated the Wildcats in Tucson since 1986. A crowd in excess of 14,000 is expected.
Krystkowiak noted that it’s not an intimidating place. However, it can be.
“You turn the ball over and you get the gym going and stuff, it’s pretty daunting,” Krystkowiak said. “But I think players want to play in this kind of environment. It’s fun to coach in it. It’s better than going into a gym that’s a third full.”
Then there are the guys that have played for Arizona and the tradition.
“If you’re not ready to play in this place it can get you,” Krystkowiak said. “But if you are, there’s not many places like it.”
The Utes hit on a lot of cylinders Thursday. Tillman and Allen had career-highs in points. Tillman led the 3-point barrage by hitting 6 of 8 shots from beyond the arc.
“This is when we want to be playing good basketball,” Krystkowiak said. “I don’t think you want to come out and use up all your bullets in the preseason.”
Allen, meanwhile, made 7 of 8 free throws in his return to the Phoenix area, where he attended high school.1 comment on this story
“It’s always nice coming home. But I’m just more focused on getting the ‘W,” he said. “It was a good team win last night, but that’s in the past and we’ve got another big one coming up.”
EXTRA STUFF: Arizona defeated Colorado 64-56 in its Pac-12 opener on Thursday . . . The Wildcats are led by sophomore guard Brandon Randolph (16.2 points), junior center Chase Jeter (7.1 rebounds) and freshman guard Brandon Williams (4.0 assists) . . . Utah is home next week to face Washington Thursday and Washington State on Saturday.
Utah (7-6, 1-0) at Arizona (10-4, 1-0)
McKale Center — Tucson, Ariz.
Saturday, 12 p.m. (MT)
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700AM