The Utes don’t have a “guy.” They have a roster, and they’ve got to count on contributions from different players on a night-to-night basis.
This past week’s sweep of the Washington schools only reinforced the sentiments that members of the Utah basketball program expressed during the preseason. When the questions came about replacing the production of key losses such as Kyle Kuzma, the common refrain from Utah players involved some variation of phrases such as collective effort, doing it as a group, everybody chipping in and everybody doing their part.
At the time, it seemed easy to interpret those comments as meaning the Utes (12-7, 4-4) simply didn’t know where they were going to get the points, rebounds, leadership or fill any other potential voids. With road games against No. 21 Arizona State (15-4, 3-4) as well as No. 11 Arizona (16-4, 6-1) on the horizon this week, it’s clear this Utes squad only functions at a high level when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
“The whole thing is keeping guys engaged,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said after Sunday’s win over Washington State. “It’s going to take a variety of different guys. We had foul trouble tonight with the bigs. That’s the definition of a team. I like our guys. We haven’t got anybody that’s pouting. When your time comes, jump in there and get after it.”
Senior guard Justin Bibbins, who came into Sunday night having averaged a team-high 17.7 points per game during Pac-12 Conference play, dished out a season-high 12 assists on Sunday night. Two of the team’s top three scorers, David Collette and Donnie Tillman, were saddled with foul trouble and combined for nine points, however, four Utes still scored 13 points or more apiece.
Tyler Rawson’s game-high 22 points marked just his second 20-point game of the season, while Gabe Bealer’s 15-point effort surpassed his scoring total from his previous six games combined. Sedrick Barefield added 14 points just days after being held to two points in 27 minutes against Washington.
UTAH AT ARIZONA STATE
When • Thursday, 7:30 p.m. MST
TV • Pac-12 Network
“We never had a defined scorer on this team, a go-to guy,” Bibbins said. “I got hot a couple games, but when everyone is going and everyone is flowing in a groove, that’s when we’re at our best. We’re happy we’re getting back to that basketball. [It’s] good momentum for next week.”
Scoring isn’t the only place the Utes benefited from having an abundance of helping hands this past week. Krystkowiak pointed to a lack of energy and effort coming out of the team’s disappointing Los Angeles road trip. Two areas those shortcomings showed up were defense and rebounding.
The Utes played perhaps their best conference game of the season from a defense and rebounding perspective in their 70-62 win over Washington. They held the visitors to 38.5 percent shooting, won the rebounding battle 44-38 and forced their way to the free throw line for 30 attempts.
Each of the nine Utes who stepped on the court against Washington scored at least two points, and seven players grabbed at least one rebound. Sophomore 7-footer Jayce Johnson pulled down eight rebounds in 17 minutes off of the bench, while redshirt freshman forward Chris Seeley added five boards and a couple of adrenaline-pumping dunks.
“It’s awesome,” Collette said following Thursday’s game. “They come in and they play hard and scrap and get rebounds, do everything they’re supposed to. It helps us out a bunch when you’ve got guys who can come in off the bench and still produce.”
The Utes were also better equipped to get a myriad of contributions this week because they’ve got more healthy bodies than in recent weeks. Tillman, Seeley, Collette, Bealer and Johnson have each missed games since the middle of December due to various illnesses or injuries.
“It helps to have a full roster and being able to throw everything we’ve got at the teams we go against,” Rawson said.
Throwing it all at their opponents appears the Utes’ best option this season.