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Ben Margot, AP
Utah's Both Gach, left, lays up a shot past California's Matt Bradley (20) and Darius McNeill in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

SALT LAKE CITY — After playing .500 ball for much of the season, the Utah Utes have garnered some momentum with four straight wins. The streak has them in a second-place tie with USC in the Pac-12 standings, two games behind conference-leader Washington.

“I enjoy the fact that we’re up in the top half of the league,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “But there’s certainly no relaxing and resting on our laurels and thinking that we’ve accomplished anything because this league has proven that anybody can beat anybody, anywhere.”

Krystkowiak said that the Utes have gotten a lot better defensively lately. On offense, he said, everybody has accepted the concept of sharing the ball. Getting high-value shots is now part of the team’s DNA.

“I think we grew in the preseason by leaps and bounds and now we’re making some plays,” said Krystkowiak, who added that last Thursday’s 70-66 win at Stanford was big and kind of validates what’s important for the squad. The Utes, he said, managed to make enough plays and free throws at the right time.

" There’s certainly no relaxing and resting on our laurels and thinking that we’ve accomplished anything because this league has proven that anybody can beat anybody, anywhere. "
Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak

As for the Pac-12 race, Krystkowiak acknowledged that teams in the conference are fighting for some limited postseason spots.

“I do know one thing that you get your NCAA ticket punched if you win the Pac-12 Tournament,” said Krystkowiak, who doesn’t feel like anybody in the league considers that to be a pipe dream right now. “There’s a chance to wrap up a few games in a row and get on a streak at the right time.

“So until somebody tells me that we can’t do it, we’re going to keep striving for that. I think a lot of other coaches in our conference are too,” he continued.

REMEMBERING MANUTE: When Oregon visits the Huntsman Center Thursday (7 p.m., FS1), the Ducks will be without star Bol Bol. The freshman suffered a season-ending foot injury nine games into his collegiate career and then declared for the NBA draft. Krystkowiak has fond memories of Bol’s father, Manute, from their days in the league.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Philadelphia's Manute Bol, left, blocks a shot by Utah's Tony Brown (21) during first half action in Philadelphia, March 4, 1991. Utah defeated Philadelphia 95-92. (AP Photo/John Bohn)

“Manute was one of my favorites actually. When he was with Philly I spent a lot of time with Charles Barkley when we played against each other,” said Krystkowiak, who said that they used to have lunch, dinner, or hang out together. “Manute was a close friend of Charles, so I got to know Manute pretty well. Loved the guy, man. He was a special one.”

Manute Bol passed away in 2010 at the age of 47.

SUPER BOWL PICKS: Krystkowiak and Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts are both picking the Los Angeles Rams to defeat the New England Patriots in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

David J. Phillip
Los Angeles Rams' Todd Gurley dives into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half the NFL football NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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“I’m going to go with the Rams,” said Krystkowiak, who was influenced by the send-off the Patriots had on television. He thought they were a little too cocky. “I just had this vision as I was watching the whole thing play out that they were going to get embarrassed on Sunday. So that’s my pick.”

Roberts, who is from California, said she would love to see the Rams win the game, even though she has a feeling they won’t.

“But you never know, right?”

• • •

Oregon (12-8, 3-4)

at Utah (11-8, 5-2)

Huntsman Center

Thursday, 7 p.m.

TV: FS1

Radio: ESPN 700AM