As the madness that college basketball is becoming boiled over in late February, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak encountered a bunch of stuff that made him angry Saturday afternoon.
The way his Utes performed in a critical, 74-58 loss to USC at the Huntsman Center was not necessarily what bothered him. Amid his defense of the program and ex-Ute star Kyle Kuzma, Krystkowiak’s fairly measured tirade in the postgame interview session targeted various people, some more deservedly than others. At one point, he paused and said, “I probably should shut up, shouldn’t I, before I keep blowing off steam.”
This was after he scorched:
• Pac-12 Conference administrators, for making the Utes tip off at 12:30 p.m. after playing Thursday night against UCLA, while the Trojans rested an extra day. With starting guard Sedrick Barefield out and reserve center Jayce Johnson barely available due to injuries, “I don’t know that we had a lot of gas in our tank,” he said.
• Agents, and not just the ones allegedly behind the mess that’s tearing down the sport. “I don’t have an agent,” Krystkowiak said. “Can’t stand ’em. Don’t need ’em.”
• The assembled media, apparently for choosing to cover an important game and, in the process, ask some questions about Utah’s involvement in a national story. Krystkowiak, disgustedly: “This is kind of what I expected.”
• The state of college basketball, which he labeled “disenchanting, a little bit of a bummer.”
The same description could apply to the Utes’ showing Saturday, with an opportunity to tie the Trojans for second place in the Pac-12. The Utes (18-10, 10-7) started slowly and never really recovered, while missing shots and making mistakes. “We had a lot of turnovers that were careless and defensive assignments that we blew,” forward Tyler Rawson said.
Mix in Rawson and two teammates having their house burglarized and a vehicle stolen during the win over UCLA, and you have quite a 40-hour slice of a basketball season.
The athletic, frenetic Trojans showed just enough of their volatile style to make Saturday’s game interesting. They led by 17 points late in the first half, by 10 at halftime, by 15 in the first 35 seconds of the second half and then by only six.
David Collette’s layup made it 55-49 with 8:52 remaining. The building was rocking, and the Utes were inspiring belief. Then, suddenly, came USC’s 16-0 surge. The run started with consecutive dunks via lob passes from Jordan McLaughlin to guard Elijah Stewart, enabled by Utah’s defensive lapses. The sequence also included Collette’s being blocked by the Trojans on two straight possessions, with one non-call especially incensing Krystkowiak.
USC (21-9, 12-5) just kept coming. So the Utes will need to beat Colorado in next Saturday’s regular-season finale and get some help against Stanford to earn a top-four seed and a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament. Utah’s NCAA Tournament chances also took a big hit.
Each upcoming event will have a weird look and feel, with everything that’s happening.
The backdrop of the weekend in college basketball featured the Yahoo Sports report about current and former players from a couple of dozen high-level programs — including Utah and USC — having received money from an agent, violating NCAA rules. USC’s Chimezie Metu posted 14 points and nine rebounds Saturday, amid chants of “Payroll” from the Ute student section.
USC ruled Metu eligible to play; we’ll never know what Utah would have done with Kuzma, who’s now a Los Angeles Lakers rookie after leaving school last spring with another year to play. In any case, Ute fans are rejoicing in Arizona’s troubles, with the report that coach Sean Miller was caught via wiretapping in a discussion about a $100,000 payment to freshman star DeAndre Ayton.
So who knows what the future looks like for the Pac-12’s flagship program. While not naming Miller, Krystkowiak said life in the coaching profession is “not a whole lot of fun for some of the people I know, relatively speaking.”
As for the Utes, looking ahead to the conference tournament, Krystkowiak said his task is to “figure out how to do some damage.”
That would be constructive use of his energy, at this stage of the season.