Meaningful basketball games in March? It could be yet another clue that Utah’s basketball program is gaining the footing it used to enjoy under Rick Majerus.
A win over California on Wednesday would be significant for the Utes, their postseason hopes and their prospects heading in to the Pac-12 tournament next week in Vegas.
Utah at CalWednesday, 8 p.m.
TV » ESPNU
Defeating the Bears would also put Utah over the .500 mark in league play for the first time. That’s a big deal. In Year One of the Larry Krystkowiak Era, the program was simply relieved to get a conference win. Last season, the Utes were competitive in a number of games, but still won only five times in 18 tries.
This year has been different. And gratifying. Utah enters Wednesday’s game against the Bears with an 8-8 record. Going 9-8 would mark another stride in the climb to respectability.
"It’s the foundation of our culture here — to persevere and keep swinging," Krystkowiak said Monday. "Nobody said this was going to be easy or perfect. We’re not going to win them all, but this team has a very strong sense of pride. We have to keep chopping wood and hopefully draw on all our experiences to finish up positively."
Last year, Utah clearly played its best basketball at the end — winning four of five to end the season and making a run to the Pac-12 tournament semifinals. This season, the Utes hope to have that same kind of ending. They’ve won two consecutive games — both handily — and both against NCAA Tournament-caliber teams in Arizona State and Colorado.
And while the tendency this week is to focus on the enormity of the match-ups against Cal and Stanford, Krystkowiak’s done his best to make sure all attention is on the Bears. He wouldn’t field questions on Stanford in Monday’s news conference. He wouldn’t look past California. For him and his players, the Bears are all that matter.
To be successful, Krystkowiak says his team needs to cut down on the turnovers — there were 15 on Saturday — and to be better defensively. Playing away from the Huntsman Center hasn’t been a topic. But being mentally strong and capable of dealing with the talent of California has been a focus.
"That’s the game we have to look at and the game we have to prepare for," Utes forward Jordan Loveridge said. "We need to make sure that we’re ready for Wednesday. That’s all that matters to us."
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