Yes! Woohoo! Utah wins! They actually beat a ranked team! They won two in a row! They're not going to finish last in the Pac-12 ... and they played the role of spoiler!
Pretty perfect Saturday, don't you think?
The Runnin' Utes, behind senior Jason Washburn's 20 points, defeated the 19th ranked Oregon Ducks 72-62 Saturday afternoon - dashing the Ducks' hopes of a Pac-12 title and giving Utah some much needed momentum heading into the upcoming Pac-12 tournament.
Let's not beat around the bush - this was the biggest win of Larry Krystkowiak's two-years here at Utah. It was the Utes' first win over a ranked team, from what I can tell, since defeating 21st ranked Illinois at the Las Vegas Invitational ... all the way back in 2009. Since that victory, it's been a mighty tough struggle for the program and while today's win doesn't even remotely mean they're back, it does prove this team doesn't give up. It wasn't that long ago, in fact only a few days, where we were discussing how much this team had regressed in the second half of the season and it was cause for concern. The hope was that they could get things turned around at home against the Oregon schools - but that was not a foregone conclusion. Utah hadn't defeated either since joining the PAC and had lost six of their last seven.
But this team didn't fold. Instead, they bounced back and won two crucial home games that finally gives Utah fans reason to hope. I don't know if it'll carry over into the Pac-12 tournament, but it's definitely a huge step in the right direction and something the program needed because there was the real possibility of this season ending on a seven-game losing streak. But now, even though it's almost certainly going to end with a loss (I don't quite think Utah will sweep its way through to the national title), there is something strong to build on from here and I'm excited to see the direction this team takes in the coming months.
For the seniors, guys like Washburn and Cedric Martin and Jarred DuBois, their careers here were not all that memorable. There was no gaudy win percentage or deep tournament run (at least I assume) - but they will be remembered, hopefully, for the players who were the group that slowly brought Utah basketball back from the abyss. They didn't get to see the NCAA Tournament or a conference championship, but they go out regular season winners and that's important solely because, in a stretch of nothingness, minor victories still should be cherished. I am glad Washburn was able to end his career at Utah with a win. I am glad we were able to send out our seniors with one of the biggest victories of the last five years. I am glad the Runnin' Utes were able to pull themselves from the brink this season and finish strong - even if I didn't always believe they would.
I don't know what Vegas holds for Utah. I don't expect much of anything and that's all right. I just wanted to see improvement this season and five conference wins is that improvement. That doesn't mean I'm not disappointed this team couldn't finish with an overall .500 record, something I do believe they had the talent, though maybe not the will, to do, but when you're downtrodden, you can't expect the unexpected - at least yet.
My hope is that this is a victory that leads to better riches down the road. Utah basketball still has a lot of hill left to climb, but they're getting closer and that's what these first few years are all about.
Of course, the future can wait. Right now, though, we just beat a ranked team and will finish 10th in the conference! That's pretty great.