The Runnin' Utes are gearing up for the second half of the Utah double-header in Las Vegas on Dec. 20, preparing for their clash with former Mountain West Conference foe UNLV. The Rebels are 6-2 on the season, having lost two out of three to the only decent teams on the schedule. UNLV beat Temple and lost to Pac-12 conference mates Stanford and Arizona State. Both losses to the Power 5 schools were by 20-plus points.
"I don't have a lot of expectations," Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "Ticket sales seem to be doing really well. Both programs will do well. Proximity is great for us, just like the relationship with Las Vegas and the MGM Grand. There is going to be a lot of red there with Oklahoma and UNLV playing along with us. It will be a nice showing. We still have to remember this is a road game."
In his weekly press conference, Krystkowiak noted there could be some changes to the starting lineup and rotations.
"A third of the way through it's time to re-evaluate," Krystkowiak said. "We are going to change the starting lineup and our rotations will change. There's no downgrading or exiling. We take Delon out for one minute, and they go on a 7-0 run at Kansas. That can't happen."
Utah came back from a 21-point deficit against the No. 10 Kansas Jayhawks, but the Utes couldn't seal the deal, dropping the contest 60-63 in Kansas City, Mo. At one point, Utah was up 12-6 but let Kansas right back into the game 12-12 only moments later.
"I don't sense any massive momentum switches in any of the three games," Coach K said. "Wichita we had some big point swings, being down 10-0 and then losing an 11-point lead. You'll find similarities there between the BYU and Kansas games. Right now, we're trying to see what is happening on film so we can eliminate these runs. We want to make sure we have our minds set on UNLV with finals week going on at the moment."
"Looking back, we had a nice start. If you compare it to a heavyweight fight, we were even through the first couple rounds. We fought pretty well until Kansas pummeled us in rounds 3-8. They are too good to give them five-straight open looks. We were sloppy offensively. On the scoreboard at the end, we were a bucket short. We may have wanted it to be a fight because we might have won on the scorecards. Bouncing back was nice but we need to fix some of the things going on in order to have a special team."
Krystkowiak felt the game plans were solid, but there were some execution errors. The minutes talented freshman are playing are bound to lead to some errors, especially where those freshman are playing good teams during the meat of the game.
"We didn't recognize some situations in that KU game," Krystkowiak said. "Guards didn't get back. Posts were trailing the play and they ran to the post which left open looks for their shooters. It's simply fundamental with team defense. We have a number of freshmen playing major minutes and they're going to have breakdowns in that type of environment. We still lead the league in rebound margin and we are tops in points-per-possession. We're also really good with our field-goal percentages. We just need to dial in on turning it over so often."
Freshman center Jakob Poeltl had size advantages over both team last week but, in the eyes of some, underperformed. Against Kansas, the big Austrian finished with just eight points, but managed 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
"Did you watch the BYU game and see some of the things going on?" Krystkowiak asked. "I'm proud of him. I wouldn't have been able to keep my composure with some of the fouls and hand checks. I hope people can take a serious look at that game. We may have to take a look at how we play basketball, and, nationally, I'd hope they see this is why scoring is down. Jakob is getting a lot of love on the draft boards. He may have a big guy or football player take a run at him as the season progresses. He needs to keep working on assignments. He's dealing with a normal progression."
Many fans have speculated Utah might have won the Kansas matchup with junior forward Jordan Loveridge available. JLove's outside shooting might have loosened up the middle for Poeltl and opened some driving lanes for Wright. However, Coach K isn't buying into "what ifs."
"We need to maximize who's available," Krystkowiak said. "We're not good at the end of shot-clock situations. We need to be much better offensively. We were 1-of-11 in those types of situations at Kansas."
Delon Wright Named Pac-12 POW:
Utah's Delon Wright has been named Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Player of the Week for play from Dec. 8-14. The Los Angeles native averaged 20.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game as the Utes split their two-game road trip last week.
"He's had some terrific games," Krystkowiak said. "He's rising to the challenge. Players want to be on big stages. I want to see more guys exceeding expectations and putting heat on themselves. Our guys need to rise up. We are done talking about freshmen making mistakes. We need to have the bench improve, maybe tinker the lineup. Delon is playing well."
In the 65-61 win over BYU, Wright recorded his first double-double of the season (18 points/11 rebounds), snapping Utah's even-game losing streak in Provo.
The senior then posted 23 points with five rebounds, four assists and four steals in the 63-60 loss at No. 10 Kansas.
Wright currently ranks in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in scoring (7th/16.2 ppg), field-goal percentage (6th/.598), assists (6th/4.78), and assist-to-turnover ratio (4th/2.53). Combine last week's performances with his outing against No. 8 Wichita State and Wright is averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists during the stretch. He is also shooting 58 percent from the field and averaging 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks.
This will be Wright’s second-career weekly award, and it is Utah’s third player of the week selection all-time since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
Next up for the the Utes is the MGM Grand Showcase in Las Vegas, Nev., on Saturday. Utah will tip off against UNLV at 9:30 p.m. MT, televised on ESPN2.