SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said it’s that time of year. Kind of a survival of the fittest deal, he explained, where you just try to stay in the fight.
The approach is serving the Utes (14-10, 8-4) well. They’ve won three straight games and are in sole possession of second place in the Pac-12. Thursday’s 83-76 victory over Arizona was the latest addition to their run of success.
Parker Van Dyke and Jayce Johnson paced the effort with career highs of 23 and 17 points, respectively. Johnson also grabbed 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
“I think those guys are both in a good place,” Krystkowiak said.
Van Dyke and Johnson aren’t the only ones. In the win over the Wildcats, Sedrick Barefield finished with 15 points and six assists. Timmy Allen (14 points, six rebounds) and Donnie Tillman (six rebounds, three blocks) also had strong showings.
Krystkowiak was especially pleased that the Utes reached team goals with 16 assists and just 10 turnovers.
“We managed to step up and make some plays,” Krystkowiak said.
Utah outscored the Wildcats 52-44 in the second half with Johnson getting all of his points after the break. The Utes trailed 32-31 at halftime but used an 18-2 run to pull away and defeat the Wildcats for just the second time in 15 tries since joining the Pac-12.
Krystkowiak said that it all began with defense.
“If we can get stops — and I’ve said it to this team over and over — the offense will take care of itself,” Krystkowiak said. “Especially at home, where we got out and ran a little bit.”
Now comes the next challenge. Utah hosts Arizona State Saturday (8 p.m., FS1). The Utes defeated the Sun Devils 96-86 in Tempe on Jan. 3, coming back from a 17-point deficit to prevail.
“That was maybe a little bit of a turning point where we didn’t quit and we stayed in it,” Krystkowiak said. “It was all about defense. We did a really good job on defense and we had a ton of transition baskets at their place.”
Should the Utes prevail over ASU again, it’ll give them their first Pac-12 sweep at home in more than a year — dating back to victories over Stanford and California.
Van Dyke noted that the Sun Devils came out and hit them in the mouth early in the first meeting. He called them a high volume and very talented team.8 comments on this story
“I think we even got to be better than tonight to get the sweep,” Van Dyke said. “So we’ll have a good day tomorrow and we’ll be prepared for Saturday.”
EXTRA STUFF: Utah leads the all-time series with ASU, 34-21. The Utes hold a 19-6 advantage at home. … The Sun Devils dropped a 77-73 decision at Colorado on Wednesday. … ASU’s team leaders include freshman guard Luguentz Dort (16.4 points), senior forward Zylan Cheatham (11 rebounds) and sophomore guard Remy Martin (5.1 assists).
Arizona State (16-8, 7-5) at Utah (14-10, 8-4)
- Huntsman Center
- Saturday, 8 p.m.
- TV: FS1
- Radio: ESPN 700AM