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Utah men's basketball: Utes want to start runnin' again

Published September 26, 2013 12:50 pm

College basketball • Team wants to up the tempo with bigger, faster backcourt players.
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Brandon Taylor could not have been any more clear.

He and his Utah men's basketball teammates intend to put their collective foot on the gas pedal this coming season, he said during the team's media day at the Huntsman Center Wednesday.

"At this altitude, we want to run people out of the gym," Taylor said.

Last season, the Utes played the majority of their games running a deliberate, clock-devouring half-court game.

Only modestly talented, the Utes were one of the slowest teams in the Pac-12, looking inside to Jason Washburn for a big chunk of its offense.

This time around, the Utes want to play at a tempo more typical of the rest of the Pac-12.

Will it work? Utah fans should start seeing the returns in six weeks, when the games begin. But to get ready to go fast, the preseason will be one long conditioning session. On Wednesday, the team held its annual two-mile run. Eight players achieved personal bests.

Enough promise has been shown during offseason practices that Larry Krystkowiak says he would like to loosen the reins — but only if the Utes still play within the system.

"In a perfect world, I would love to be able to sit on the bench more and just watch," Krystkowiak said. "I would like to give out a little more freedom. The question is whether the kids can handle that freedom, and take care of the basketball and rebound."

The Ute roster — again — will look far different than the season before.

In 2012, Utah was by far the smallest team in the conference on the perimeter. This year the Utes will put guards on the floor with more size and athleticism with the addition of Delon Wright (6-foot-5), Princeton Onwas (6-5), Kenneth Ogbe (6-6) and Parker Van Dyke (6-3).

That is one of the things that has precipitated the shift in tempo. Now comes the challenge of implementing it and keeping everybody happy.

Jordan Loveridge, for instance, lost 30 pounds, now weighs 215 and is faster than a year ago. Now, Krystkowiak can use him at power forward and small forward. Washburn has moved on — he's now playing professional basketball overseas — leaving Utah without a proven post threat. But one clear way to compensate is to open up the floor.

"We think it will be fun playing at a faster pace," Loveridge said. "Everyone wants to run and everyone wants to get out on the fast break and score easy baskets. We have enough players on the team to change the way we play. It will be fun getting started."

The Utes aren't turning into Loyola Marymount. Krystkowiak made that much clear. They will continue to run half-cour sets and they want to continue to be one of the best defensive teams in the Pac-12.

But with bigger and more athletic defenders, Utah could force more turnovers than last season. Doing that could lead to easy baskets.

Krystkowiak also recruited some ball-handlers. Wright, Ogbe and Van Dyke all have previous point guard experience. Loveridge, Dakarai Tucker, Ahmad Fields and Onwas can all handle the ball on the break.

It makes a difference, securing a rebound and leading a push, instead of having to stop and look for a point guard.

"We can be a lot more dangerous if we can get out and get easy points," Tucker said. "It's something that we want to concentrate on doing more of this year. We have the guys to do it."

tjones@sltrib.comTwitter: @tjonessltrib —

Utah basketball primer

• Finished 15-18 last season

• Won four of last five games, including two in the Pac-12 Tournament

• Sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge returns as leading returning scorer and rebounder

• Two starters return

• Practice begins Friday