Utah Basketball: Utes need road wins to bolster credibility
Win over UCLA nice, but breaking serve remains team’s biggest hurdle.
Published: January 23, 2014 10:01AM
Updated: January 23, 2014 09:10AM
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Michael Mangum | Special to the Tribune Utah headcoach Larry Krystkowiak directs his team during their game against the Willamette Bearcats at the Huntsman Center on Friday, November 9, 2012. The Utes beat the Bearcats 104-47.

Tempe, Ariz. • Taking out BYU for the first time in years was nice. Beating UCLA was an accomplishment.

Until Utah starts winning some Pac-12 games on the road, however, Larry Krystkowiak’s team won’t be taken seriously on a national level. Until proven otherwise, the Utes are believed to be a year away from true conference contention. Home victories over teams like the Bruins are impressive, but are redgarded as a random occurrence.

That’s the national narrative, anyway. And with Utah sitting on an 0-3 record away from the Huntsman Center, it’s tough to argue. The Utes get Arizona State on Thursday night here at Wells Fargo Arena, representing another chance to alter the storyline a bit. But for now, it sticks.

“The wins over BYU and UCLA signify the strides Utah’s made under Krystkowiak,” Yahoo college basketball analyst Jeff Eisenberg said. “But they have more to prove before I’m ready to believe they’re an NCAA Tournament team this season. They haven’t shown they can win on the road. And though their record is gaudy, some of that is the product of their non-league schedule.”

Thursday offers Utah a reset, of sorts. Two weeks ago, the Utes went to Washington and got swept by UW and Washington State, the latter an embarrassing defeat against perhaps the Pac-12’s worst team. But Utah rebounded nicely last week by sweeping the Los Angeles schools at home.

With the twin wins, the Utes are 3-3 and tied for sixth place in the conference. But defeating ASU on its floor will be anything but easy. After all, the Sun Devils have Jahii Carson, one of the best point guards in the league. Their 7-foot-2 center, Jordan Bachynski — yes, Ute center Dallin Bachynski’s brother — is the leading shotblocker in the country, and Jermaine Marshall has been a fine second offensive complement to Carson, since transferring from Penn State.

“We’re just trying to go about our business,” Utah center Jeremy Olsen said. “We don’t want to listen to outside chatter. We just want to figure out a way how to come out and play well.”

Thursday marks an important game for both teams. The Utes want to finally find a way to win a game outside of Salt Lake City. Arizona State, meanwhile, has already lost one conference game at home, to Washington. Herb Sendek’s team can ill-afford to lose another at Wells Fargo Arena. Both teams are currently fighting with each other for spots in the middle of the league. Both teams could be competing with each other for a postseason berth by the time the Pac-12 schedule winds down next month.

And oh yeah. The back end of thestrip features a date with No. 1 Arizona in Tuscon. It almost goes without saying that a win there will be extremely tough to come by. That means — for better or worse — the Utes’ latest, best chance to break through on the road comes Thursday night.

“We simply have to score one more point than the other team,” Krystkowiak said. “I think the guys are ready for the challenge. We’re going to have to play well defensively, and we have to find a way to make some shots on the other end.”

tjones@sltrib.com

Utah at Arizona State

O At Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, Ariz.

Radio • 700 AM

Records • Utah 14-4 (3-3); Arizona State 13-5 (2-3)

Series history • Utah leads 27-19

Last meeting • Utah 60, Arizona State 55 (Feb. 13, 2013)

About the Utes • Delon Wright is the reigning Pac-12 player of the week. … Utah has won 12 of its 14 games by double-figures. … the two teams have split the last 10 meetings. … Utah is searching for its 1,700th win as a program. … A win on Thursday would put Utah over the .500 mark for the first time in conference history

About the Sun Devils • Jordan Bachynski is the older brother of Dallin. … Jahii Carson is known as one of the best point guards in the Pac-12. … ASU has wins over UNLV and Marquette this season. … The Sun Devils lost to Arizona in their last game. … Both teams won on the other’s home floor last season