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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes forward Renan Lenz (10) dunks the ball during the first half of the game at The Huntsman Center Thursday November 21, 2013. Utah is winning 37-20 at halftime.
Utah basketball: Lenz feels at home on the court with family in town
Utah basketball » Senior center from Brazil ready to contribute in final games.
First Published Feb 27 2014 03:41 pm • Last Updated Feb 28 2014 05:09 pm

It may have been as simple as getting Renan Lenz a home-cooked meal.

Other than that, there aren’t many ways to explain Utah’s 6-foot-10 senior big man having his best and most important game of the season.

At a glance

Renan Lenz file

» Is a native of Brazil who moved to the U.S. four years ago to play juco ball at Arizona Western CC.

» Scored 14 points and grabbed three rebounds in Sunday’s win over Arizona State.

» Began the season as Utah’s starting center, but has averaged just 6.2 mpg since the beginning of conference play.

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The Brazil native — with his parents visiting him in America for the first time in two years — scored 14 points in 13 minutes on Sunday night, helping the Utes to an 86-63 win over Arizona State. They will also be on hand Saturday for Senior Day when Utah takes on Colorado.

Lenz’s performance vs. ASU was significant in the way he offensively dominated the Sun Devils’ big men. It was surprising because he’d lost so many minutes in the past two months.

He simply looked like the player he was at the beginning of November.

"Playing in front of my parents certainly gave me a lot of motivation to play well," Lenz said. "The home-cooked meals definitely help. I just wanted to get to the 50-50 balls and to rebound and take my time in the paint. I knew that if I stayed patient, things would fall in place."

More than anyone, Lenz’s time had been affected in the last two months. He began the year as a starter at the center spot. But as Marko Kovacevic recovered from a wrist injury and came back to the lineup, Lenz was moved to power forward.

As a result, Lenz ceased to be a starter and was reduced to spot minutes spelling Jordan Loveridge. His confidence dipped. It became difficult for him to make a significant impact with the little time he received.

Following Utah’s win over the Sun Devils, coach Larry Krystkowiak took responsibility for that, stating that Lenz should’ve been playing more in the past weeks. It was as close to a public apology as you can get without actually mouthing the words I’m sorry.

"I feel a l lot of responsibility for Renan," Krystkowiak said. "He’s stuck with it and he’s probably the most positive guy on the team. With his family here for the first time ever, it was supposed to happen that way. I probably played Jordan too much at power forward and didn’t play Renan like I should’ve."

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In meeting with Lenz and his family this week, Krystkowiak told him he would play more. In the practices leading up to Sunday’s win, the Utah coach staff had Lenz do some extra conditioning. They gave him more reps, and they told him to be prepared to go into the game and give good minutes.

He did that and then some against ASU. From the start, Lenz was as aggressive offensively as he’d ever been in a Utah uniform. He took — and drained — a jumper from the baseline on his first touch. He scored with his back to the basket. He took passes off penetration and finished above the rim. He even blocked two shots.

Krystkowiak said he made a mistake thinking that Lenz couldn’t play the center position against Pac-12 teams. So in stretches against ASU, he had Lenz in the middle as well.

Lenz’s final game at the Huntsman Center will come Saturday against Colorado. Lenz said he would love to finish his career out strong. And while he’s looking toward the postseason, he’s been cautious about thinking too far into the future.

"We can’t get ahead of ourselves," Lenz said. "Colorado is next and then California and then Stanford. The Pac-12 Tournament is a couple of weeks away. We still have a lot of work to do."


Twitter: @tjonessltrib

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