SALT LAKE CITY — Nine down, nine to go for the Utah Utes. They concluded the first half of Pac-12 play Saturday against Oregon State in the Huntsman Center.
It didn’t end well. The Utes dropped an 81-72 decision to the Beavers. Two days earlier, they fell to Oregon 78-72.
After getting swept this past week, Utah fell to 11-10 overall and 5-4 in conference. The Utes open the second half of league contests at USC on Wednesday.
“We’re at the halfway point. We’ve learned a heck of a lot and we’re kind of at the moment of truth,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “When we start practice on Monday, are we all in and are we going to keep grinding and chopping wood and getting better?”
Although the Utes trail conference-leading Washington (18-4, 9-0) by four games, they’re only one game out of second place — in a logjam with Arizona (14-8, 5-4) and UCLA (12-10, 5-4), right behind Arizona State (15-6, 6-3), Oregon State (14-7, 6-3) and USC (13-9, 6-3) and just ahead of Oregon (13-9, 4-5).
“This isn’t March. This isn’t Las Vegas where our season ends,” Krystkowiak said. “That’s the great thing about sports, is we get to tip it off Wednesday night at USC and we can get that taste (losing to the Oregon schools) out if our mouth — if we want to.”
Junior center Jayce Johnson insists the Utes will be the fine. He said the coaches will have a game plan to get back at it Monday and put Saturday’s outcome behind them. Johnson later added that they’ll recoup and fix things.
“It’s not Las Vegas. It’s not March yet,” he said. “We’ve still got a lot of games ahead of us, six weeks, so we can still do this thing.”
That thing the Utes are shooting for is the NCAA Tournament. As always, Krystkowiak said it’s a goal that exists until someone tells him they can’t go. This year, the route is most likely narrow and defined because of double-digit losses.
“The only way we get there, right now, is to win the Pac-12 Tournament,” said Krystkowiak, who reminded reporters that “weird things happen in March.”
Utah’s quest, thus, is to be playing its best ball when it hits Vegas.
“Then anything can happen, right?” Krystkowiak said.26 comments on this story
After games this week at USC and UCLA, the Utes return home to face Arizona (Feb. 14) and Arizona State (Feb. 16). Then comes road dates at Washington (Feb. 20), Washington State (Feb. 23) and Colorado (March 2). Utah closes out the regular season at the Huntsman Center against USC (March 7) and UCLA (March 9).
In the first half of Pac-12 play, Utah won three road games (Arizona State, Stanford and California) and lost three at home (Washington, Oregon and Oregon State).
Utah (11-10, 5-4) at USC (13-9, 6-3)
Galen Center, Los Angeles
Wednesday, 9 p.m. MT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700AM