Eugene, Ore. • For most major Division I basketball teams, practices in February are more like walk-throughs, preparation for the next opponent.
At Utah, they serve as day-to-day tryouts.
By this point of the regular season, with March Madness on the horizon, the vast majority of coaches have a set rotation with little deviation. That isn’t the case with the Utes.
As Utah gets set to face No. 19 Oregon here Saturday, it will do so without a consistent player rotation, something that has been the case for the past three weeks. The Utes have employed three different starting lineups in the past four games.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak has been generous in spreading out the minutes. Some players, such as freshman Justin Seymour, have seen their playing time fluctuate drastically. Others, like Jeremy Olsen, have played well in limited minutes, demanding more time as the season progresses.
It all adds up to a coach attempting to squeeze the most out of a young roster.
“We like to play people who play well in practice,” Krystkowiak said. “We are constantly trying to find the right combinations out there, and we want to put the people on the floor who give us the best chance to be successful.”
In a season where Utah finds itself at 2-8 in the Pac-12 — and still struggling just to be competitive in some instances — Krystkowiak’s main goal has been to find some consistent answers. And to a degree, he has. Brandon Taylor couldn’t beg his way into a game in November and December. Now, the tiny freshman point guard is arguably the best player on the team.
Three weeks ago, the Ute coaches were so desperate for long-term point guard play they persuaded incoming recruit Parker Van Dyke to delay his LDS Church mission for a year. Now, at the very least, Taylor has proved that he can play and start in the Pac-12.
Olsen has also been a find, though on a smaller scale. One casualty amid the jostling appears to be Glen Dean, who played just 16 minutes in Utah’s 82-64 loss to Oregon State on Wednesday night. And while Cedric Martin continues to start and play consistently, his minutes have dwindled as well.
“We are all competitors, and we all want to play,” senior center Jason Washburn said. “But we know that we have to do what’s best for the team. We want to win, and every guy on the team is invested in that. Coach Krystkowiak knows what’s best for us, and we all play hard in practice with that in mind.”
Utah will face an Oregon team that has lost three consecutive games since winning seven straight to start league play. The losing streak coincides with losing freshman point guard Dominic Artis to a foot injury. The Utes expect him to be healthy on Saturday. They also expect to face a team desperate for a win.
Utah at Oregon
O At Matthew Knight Arena (Eugene, Ore.)
Tipoff • Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Networks
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 10-12, 2-8; Oregon 18-5, 7-3
Last meeting • Oregon 94, Utah 48 (March 3, 2012)
About the Utes • Brandon Taylor scored a career-high 21 points in a loss to Oregon State on Wednesday. … Jordan Loveridge made his return from injury against the Beavers, totaling seven points and eight rebounds. … The last time the two teams met, Oregon raced to a 34-2 lead. … Utah leads the Pac-12 in field-goal defense.
About the Ducks • Oregon has been ranked as high as No. 10 nationally. … The Ducks are a half-game behind Arizona for first place in the conference. … Oregon is 14th nationally in rebounding margin.