LOS ANGELES — It could be called a pivotal stretch. After last week’s losses at home to Oregon and Oregon State, the Utah Utes (11-10, 5-4) are in California to face USC on Wednesday and UCLA on Saturday. Home games against Arizona and Arizona State follow, and then comes a road date at Washington.
Despite the challenging schedule, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak doesn’t consider it a segment that will tell the tale of this team.
“I’ve never bought into that. I think the pivotal stretch is in your next game. I’ve always felt that way, whether it’s the first one or the last one,” he said. “Obviously, when you’re somewhere in between there, it is a pivot because you’re playing one and you’ve got to pivot and play the next one.
“So as far as putting any more sense of urgency on a weekend or a game, or anything like that, I’ve always kind of thought that’s baloney and you scratch and claw and try to make enough plays to win the next game,” he continued.
Krystkowiak reiterated his preference to play all 18 conference games and then add them up and find out who the Utes will play in the Pac-12 tournament.
“Then the next one’s pivotal,” he said.
Even so, a win at USC (13-9, 6-3) would in turn prevent the Utes from falling to .500.
The Trojans, though, present quite a challenge — especially inside. Their top two scorers are 6-foot-10 senior Bennie Boatwright (17.3 ppg) and 6-foot-11 junior Nick Rakocevic (16.2 ppg). Other standouts include junior guards Jonah Mathews (12.6 ppg) and Derryck Thornton, who is second in the conference with 5.0 assists per game.
“They’re playing well as of late when you look back at the last six, seven games,” Krystkowiak said. “They’ve certainly improved as the year has gone on.”
USC has won four of its last five games. The Trojans have been really tough at home. They’re 5-0 against Pac-12 opponents at the Galen Center.
Utah’s bid to break though has centered on a couple of focal points.
Krystkowiak noted the need to take care of the basketball in the second half of Pac-12 play. Toughness is also something the Utes hope to improve upon.
“If we can shore those areas up, I think we’ll improve in a lot of other categories,” said Krystkowiak, who added free-throw shooting to the list. The Utes missed the front end of seven one-and-ones during the setbacks to Oregon and Oregon State.1 comment on this story
“I feel like we’re at the point where we need to make more plays and there’s a lot of areas on both sides of the ball,” Krystkowiak said.
EXTRA STUFF: Utah leads the all-time series with USC, 22-19. The Trojans hold a 9-7 advantage over the Utes in L.A. ... Utah has won two straight road games, having swept Stanford and California last month. ... Krystkowiak is one win away from his 150th victory with the Utes.
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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