Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Runnin' Utes will play their next three at the Huntsman Center.
So, maybe Saturday's victory over Washington will prove season defining. It can certainly look that way if Utah manages to win their next three home games, an important stretch that begins tonight against Cal.
It really is amazing what one victory can do for a team's morale. I mean, it wasn't that long ago, just a few days ago, in fact, the Runnin' Utes looked absolutely lost and on their way to another sluggish season. But a road win over the previously undefeated Huskies has acted as a spark of sorts and might just be the win that turns this entire season around.
But of course, you're only as good as your last victory, right? This season still has a good number of games left and the feel-goodness of that Washington contest can only hold up with additional victories. A few bad losses, especially during this home stretch, and we might be right back to where we were prior to the trip to Seattle.
That's why these next three games are so important. It's a chance for Utah to secure some victories and improve their overall record - even potentially coming to within a game of .500 in conference play. That's a huge step for this team, and program ... if it happens. I don't want to put the cart before the horse because this year's team has shown improvement and regression and, unfortunately, not much consistency. The next step in the overall improvement of Utah basketball certainly is establishing sustained consistency.
I'm hopeful we'll see that against Cal, Stanford and Colorado - three teams the Utes can legitimately beat. While maybe expecting Utah to win all three might be a bit too much with how unproven even still this team is at the moment, I do believe it would be a huge step in the right direction if they could manage to win two of their next three. That's what I'm hoping to see and frankly, I really kind of expect it because none of these next three opponents give me much pause. While they're all certainly capable of beating Utah, they're not the cream of the conference crop and if we have illusions of the Utes contending in the middle ... they'll certainly have to defeat the middle. Right?
Their first opponent in this three-game set is California. The Golden Bears beat Utah 81-45 and 60-46 last season, but of course, last year's team was down right awful. This year's team should be good enough to not just stay competitive with the Golden Bears, but also eke out victory. Cal does have two conference wins, one against Washington State at home and USC on the road, but they do have three losses - Washington, UCLA and Stanford - the latter two on the road. That's not a terribly impressive resume.
Of course, their fans are looking over ours and saying the exact same thing. So, you get the sense they probably think victory is just as attainable as maybe we should here on this blog. But that's okay. I won't criticize any team's fan base from expecting a win over Utah because we haven't been able to prove we're much better than a near-gimmie.
The thing is, that can change with each victory and my hope is that we can build not only momentum, but confidence, these next three games so that, when we venture back on the road, the opposing fans are now saying, "don't sleep on Utah."
A couple wins here will go along way toward defining this season even more and showing the rest of the conference that Utah basketball might just be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
But it all starts with wins and they desperately need a win tonight to set a positive tone for this home stretch.
Let's see what they got.