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Utah basketball: Onwas shines after being odd man out

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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard/forward Princeton Onwas (3) drives to the basket over Washington State Cougars guard Royce Woolridge (22), as the University of Utah hosts Washington State, NCAA basketball at the Huntsman Center Saturday February 8, 2014 in Salt Lake City.

By Tony Jones

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Feb 10 2014 01:36PM
Updated Feb 10, 2014 11:10PM

Princeton Onwas was seething a week ago.

Utah’s junior small forward sat on the bench as Ahmad Fields ate into his minutes in a loss to Colorado. The two are friends, teammates. But Onwas has always been a competitor. Being the odd man out wasn’t something he anticipated.

"You can tell he wasn’t happy with sitting," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "He came to practice on Monday and you can tell it was on. He was ready to battle and he had a great week of practice. It was one of those moments where you find yourself at a crossroads. Princeton chose to compete, and now we know he’s fully on board with us."

If the last two games are any indication, Utah may now have a dimension that wasn’t there earlier this season. In the win over Washington last Thursday, Onwas’ defense on C.J. Wilcox was critical toward getting the victory. He denied the Huskies’ star all over the floor and made the last eight minutes miserable for the Pleasant Grove native.

On Saturday in the win over Washington State, Onwas trumped that performance. He scored 10 points in 13 minutes, caught two dunks in transition and provided size and defense that was previously missing.

"I got back to having fun. That was the main thing," Onwas said. "That’s the reason I started playing basketball. I take pride in defending. I was able to get out in transition and my teammates were able to find me. I thank them for that."

Krystkowiak’s been looking for the next Cedric Martin all season. Last season, Martin was one of the best perimeter defenders in the Pac-12. That’s what the Utes have been missing this year — someone who can physically stand up to the multitude of great wing scorers the league has to offer.

Onwas made a case for that with his play in the last two games. In addition to his work on Wilcox, he harassed Washington State’s DaVonte’ Lacy on Saturday. One of the leading scorers in the Pac-12, Lacy dropped 22 points on the Utes. But not many of those came with Onwas guarding him.

"I’ve always been defensive-minded," Onwas said. "It’s one of the things I love to do, so I try to go out and give it my best shot."

Krystkowiak hopes he can get some consistency from Onwas. He had him in the starting lineup for most of November, and then began bringing him off the bench by the middle of December.

Now in February, Onwas is beginning to emerge as a valuable role player again. If he can sustain his solid play, he gives the Utes added depth for the stretch run.

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