SEATTLE — It’s not a time for the timid or the weak.
That’s how Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak described the current state of affairs in Pac-12 basketball. Entering the final three weeks of conference play, just 3.5 games separate second through 10th places.
The Utes are near the top of the logjam. They’re in a third-place tie with Arizona State at 8-5 — well behind conference-leading Washington (11-1) and oh-so-close to second-place Oregon State (8-4).
On the other hand, though, the Utes and Sun Devils are clinging to what would be the final two byes in next month’s Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. Colorado, Stanford and USC are just one game back at 7-6. Then there’s Oregon (6-6), UCLA (6-7) and Arizona (5-8) in close pursuit. Washington State (3-9) could also be in the mix.
Krystkowiak, though, isn’t worrying about the other teams as the season enters a pivotal stretch. Utah begins a stretch of three consecutive road games Wednesday (9 p.m., FS1) at Washington. The Utes are at Washington State on Saturday and Colorado next week.
“The focus is to control what you can control. We can’t control what happens in the other five games this weekend,” Krystkowiak said. “You watch them and you’re curious, but it’s all coming to a head and it’s certainly a one game at a time mentality.”
That’s the approach Krystkowiak has always favored and he insists that hasn’t changed. However, he acknowledged that everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Since the end of the season is drawing near, Krystkowiak believes a lot of the remaining time will be decided “between our ears” and not necessarily with physical aspects. As usual, he compares the season to a marathon.
“We’re in the last handful of miles that you have in that race and we’ll kind of see what we’re made of going down the stretch,” Krystkowiak said. “But it’s as interesting as it’s ever been when so many teams are jumbled up.”
As such, Krystkowiak noted that “each game has a different story” and “it’s going to be a grind.” The latter may be an understatement as Utah begins its season-ending stretch against the Huskies (20-5, 11-1) at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“It starts with their defense, first and foremost,” said Krystkowiak, who added that Washington has a lot of veterans operating its opportunistic zone.
Utah’s hopes, he explained, will come down to players making plays and having a little bit of poise.
“I think we need to be really connected when it comes to the offensive end of the floor to try to earn ourselves a good shot and not be in a hurry,” Krystkowiak said.
EXTRA STUFF: Washington defeated Utah 69-53 in Salt Lake City on Jan. 10. … The Utes lead the all-time series 15-10, but the Huskies hold a 6-5 edge in Seattle. … Washington’s leaders include sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell (16.5 points, 3.3 assists), senior forward Noah Dickerson (6.8 rebounds) and senior forward Matisse Thybulle (3.4 steals, 2.1 blocks).
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Utah (14-11, 8-5) at Washington (20-5, 11-1)
Alaska Airlines Arena — Seattle
Wednesday, 9 p.m. (MT)
Radio: ESPN 700AM
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Remaining Pac-12 games
Home (4): Utah, Colorado, Oregon State, Oregon
Away (2): California, Stanford
OREGON STATE (8-4)
Home (2): Arizona, Arizona State
Away (4): UCLA, USC, Washington, Washington State
ARIZONA STATE (8-5)
Home (2): Stanford, California
Away (3): Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona
Home (2): USC, UCLA
Away (3): Washington, Washington State, Colorado
Home (3): Utah, UCLA, USC
Away (2): Washington State, Washington
Home (3): Washington State, Washington, California
Away (2): Arizona State, Arizona
USC (7-6)11 comments on this story
Home (2): Oregon, Oregon State
Away (3): UCLA, Utah, Colorado
Home (2): Arizona State, Arizona
Away (4): USC, UCLA, Washington State, Washington
Home (3): Oregon State, Oregon, USC
Away (2): Colorado, Utah
Home (3): California, Stanford, Arizona State
Away (2): Oregon State, Oregon
WASHINGTON STATE (3-9)
Home (4): Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Oregon State
Away (2): Stanford, California
Home (2): Washington, Washington State
Away (3): Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford