While the Utes have earned the right to enjoy a weekend road sweep of the Oregon squads who’ve tortured them in recent seasons, they can’t afford to spend much time exulting their accomplishments from the opening weekend of Pac-12 play.
Utah’s win over Oregon on Friday snapped a nine-game losing streak and marked the program’s first win in Eugene since 1951. Sunday’s win at Oregon State exorcised demons of recent season, as Oregon State had won four of the previous five against Utah in Gill Coliseum.
“It doesn’t happen often, but it’s a good one to get,” Utes senior David Collette said of the sweep. “[It’s good] to start off the year with it, for sure.”
Utah (10-3, 2-0 Pac-12) can’t let the aroma of victory linger too long, or they risk it turning into a powerful stench in a hurry. The Utes this week play host to the top two contenders in the conference in Arizona and Arizona State.
Arizona, the preseason Pac-12 favorite, visits the Huntsman Center on Thursday night ranked 14th in the country at 11-3 overall and 1-0 in the league. Fourth-ranked Arizona State (12-1, 0-1) visits on Sunday evening.
“You’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “In that same theme, I think it’s really important for our guys to come in to practice this week — and the best teams practice the same regardless of if you’ve won five in a row or lost five in a row.
“You’ve got to have that chip [on your shoulder] because we’ve got two really good opponents coming into our place this weekend.”
The Utes could have a deeper bench to reach into this week, but it remains unclear whether freshman forward Donnie Tillman (sprained foot) or redshirt freshman forward Chris Seeley (gallbladder surgery) will receive clearance to play. Tillman has missed the past four games, while Seeley hasn’t played since Nov. 16.
The Utes should not lack motivation. Aside from hosting two top-15 opponents, the Utes came into the season facing doubts about how they’d replace four of their top six scorers from last season, including a NBA first-round draft pick who has become an almost-daily SportsCenter darling in Kyle Kuzma.
While many coaches and players typically downplay the significance of preseason polls, that the Utes were picked seventh in the Pac-12 hasn’t escaped the memory of players such as senior guard Justin Bibbins.
“We know what we were seeded,” said Bibbins, a graduate transfer from Long Beach State. “So we just every day play with a chip on our shoulder and come out here and compete.”