Utah basketball: End of 1st Pac-12 season leaves Utes wanting more
College basketball • Coach praises grit in Utah’s six-win season.
Published: March 9, 2012 10:59PM
Updated: March 9, 2012 12:48AM
Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes center Jason Washburn (42) and his teammates celebrate after the game against Arizona State at the Huntsman Center Saturday January 21, 2012. Utah won the game 64-43.

Los Angeles • Jason Washburn didn’t once look up. A set of courtesy headphones, marked by the Utes’ logo, sat untouched in his locker Wednesday. Other players fiddled with their new headphones, but not Washburn.

“I just wasn’t ready for it to end,” he said after midnight Wednesday, following Utah’s season-ending 53-41 loss in the Pac-12 Tournament. “It’s heartbreaking — we played with heart, we played with maximum effort. A few key plays … made the game get out of our reach again.”

To listen to him, you would think the Utes had lost something more than their 25th game. Utah (6-25, 3-15 Pac-12) finished the worst season in its 104-year history. But there was more than a sense of nostalgia as the players packed up their bags for the final time, wrapped new headphones around their necks and trudged out of the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room in the Staples Center into an unknown future.

Even coach Larry Krystkowiak, who will try to figure out in the coming weeks how to dismantle this team and rebuild it into something better by fall, seemed sad for the season to end.

“They’re really a resilient group,” he said. “They just kept grinding and grinding. I’ve got a lot of respect for guys that can do that.”

That was certainly the case in the loss against the Buffaloes. Utah had lost twice to Colorado previously, including by 40 points on New Year’s Eve. Wednesday, the Utes stifled the Buffs, holding them scoreless for stretches of 11:17 and 9:10. Like always, though, the Utes struggled to take advantage.

Utah had no seniors by the end of the season, and it’s unclear how many of the players on this year’s roster will return. The Utes have two available scholarships — assuming injured David Foster indeed returns for another senior season — and have already signed five players for next year’s class. But that wasn’t a topic for discussion on Wednesday.

By the end of that night and into the morning, it was clear that the Utes had grown into a team Krystkowiak was proud of.

“It wasn’t always pretty,” he said. “We didn’t always make our shots — we had a heck of a time scoring points. I think a lot of guys maximized their efforts.”