Utah basketball: Utes' defense becoming defining characteristic
The proof was in Kareem Storey's diving steal and subsequent timeout; in Washington's abysmal field-goal percentage; and in the chatter and passion.
Yes, it could be seen even in a 57-53 loss to the Huskies: The Utes have become a defensive basketball team.
"We were really proud," Cedric Martin said. "We were hustling, battling, hitting people, getting a little grimy. That's where our center of our attention should be on defense."
Long known to lack the talent and offensive firepower of their Pac-12 rivals, these Utes will have to win, if they win, with defense.
Throughout Saturday's game, they were in a position to do so. The Huskies shot just 32.3 percent in the first half, and the Utes kept their leading scorers well under control. Freshman point guard Tony Wroten entered the game averaging 17.1 points per game, while former Pleasant Grove standout C.J. Wilcox had been good for 15.1 points this season.
Wroten was held to 8 points, while Wilcox scored just 5 on 2-of-13 shooting.
However, the Utes were hurt by guard Terrence Ross, who scored 14 points 11 in the second half.
"You kind of have to determine what you want to stop," Krystkowiak said. "I thought Wroten and C.J., we did a pretty good job on. Those were the first two guys on the list and, like on a lot of good teams, the supporting cast stepped up."
Washington committed only eight turnovers, but four came on steals, one on a shot-clock violation and another on a charge.
The Utes nearly had the defining defensive play of their season when, with about 40 seconds remaining, they twice almost stole the ball in the backcourt while trailing by six.
"I told our guys, 'I think they're going to anticipate us fouling and we can get a 10-second count,' " Krystkowiak said. "Let's not foul but be really aggressive."
The ball came loose right in front of Krystkowiak and the first-year coach nearly came loose of his wingtips.
But the Huskies recovered the ball and Utah was forced to foul.
"It just shows that once we got our mind focused and buckled down on defense," point guard Josh Watkins said, "we can do anything."