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Utah basketball: Improving down the stretch pays off for Utes

Published February 14, 2013 12:05 pm

College basketball • Utah's win over Arizona State shows tangible progress.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Larry Krystkowiak preached patience. He preached execution. He demanded accountability in pressure situations.

Then against Arizona State, his Utah players went out and put his words into action.

Beating the Sun Devils 60-55 at the Huntsman Center wasn't the first win of the Pac-12 season for the Utes, and certainly not the first victory overall.

But it may have been the first win for Krystkowiak's crew in a tight game that Utah made all of the right plays down the stretch. For once, the Utes didn't limp across the finish line. For once, the postgame news conference didn't focus on Utah's shortcomings in the clutch.

"It's nice to not be on the other side of this thing," Krystkowiak said. "We've learned a lot of lessons throughout the year. Credit our guys. They stepped up and made the plays when they had to. It was good watching the guys have fun and celebrate a win. This is the most resilient group of guys that I've been around."

Progress has been Krystkowiak's mantra this season, and indeed it seems that the Utes are taking tangible steps. In a game in which Utah trailed by eight with seven minutes remaining, Krystkowiak's crew scored 19 of the final 25 points.

They did it by garnering defensive stops at the right time, hitting big shots and getting rebounds.

They did it by not panicking and not turning the ball over at inopportune times.

"Utah wasn't in the best of situations," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "But you have to give them credit. They really made the plays they needed to and finished the game. And we didn't finish the game."

Utah has proved unpredictable. The Utes have also proved more than capable of playing almost everyone that resides in the top tier of the Pac-12.

Going forward, that makes them one of the more dangerous teams in the league.

Beating Colorado and Arizona State put dents in the NCAA Tournament résumés of both teams. Surely the Sun Devils wouldn't like to encounter Utah in the first round of the league tournament. With the postseason largely out of the question barring a miracle run, the Utes appear more than capable of playing the role of spoiler in the coming weeks.

"We know where we sit in the Pac-12," Washburn said. "That makes us bad news for some other teams who lose to us and are trying to get into the NCAA Tournament. That's how our season has played out, but that's what we have in front of us."

tjones@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tjonessltrib —

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