Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak’s latest lineup change succeeded in sparking his team Monday night.
That was mostly true at the start of the second half, after Krystkowiak recognized the Utes needed more than merely any nonverbal message that came from switching two of his starters.
Utah eventually rolled to a 93-64 victory over Florida A&M at the Huntsman Center, where Krystkowiak delivered one of the more “animated” halftime lectures of his eight-year tenure, by his account. “That’s really not the way I want to coach,” he said, but it worked in this case.
His team allowed 55.6-percent shooting in the first half, with the Rattlers’ closing run to within 44-34 serving to “set me off my rocker,” Krystkowiak said. So the coach “chewed on some rear end” in the locker room.
The Utes (5-5) responded to his words, pulling away to the kind of convincing win they needed after Saturday’s 27-point loss at No. 19 Kentucky. Utah earned whatever value can come from beating a team ranked No. 340 among 353 Division I schools in kenpom.com, thanks to the improved defensive effort in the second half.
“Yeah, [Krystkowiak] got into us a little bit, and it was needed,” said senior guard Parker Van Dyke. “He just came in and kind of lit a fire underneath us and said, hey, we have to play harder. And there’s no excuse for lack of effort.”
Van Dyke’s career-best offensive night helped give Utah’s story a much happier ending. He made 7 of 9 shots, including six 3-pointers, to score 20 points. Freshman forward Timmy Allen also rejoined Van Dyke in Utah’s original, season-opening lineup and scored a season-high 16 points.
It was a rewarding night for Van Dyke, who looked confident from the start. “The part you guys don’t see is practice and meetings, and he’s a captain and he does things the right way,” Krystkowiak told the media. “He’s enthusiastic. He pulls for his teammates. He has a lot of the qualities that we love in our program.”
That stuff has appeared intermittently throughout the roster this season, with an upgraded schedule only partly responsible for Utah’s first losing record — until Monday, anyway — since the 2012-13 season. Utah looked especially bad against BYU and Kentucky, amid suggestions that a weird schedule of playing only on Saturdays for three straight weeks may have hurt the Utes as much as helped them, with all of those extra practices.
Monday’s biggest news was not as much about Van Dyke and Allen starting again, as about the starters they replaced: senior guard Sedrick Barefield and sophomore forward Donnie Tillman. Those two combined for 2-of-13 shooting at Kentucky and had been pinpointed by Krystkowiak for forcing shots the previous week at BYU.
Barefield responded well to the benching, scoring 16 points after each of the deposed starters entered at the 15-minute mark of the first half. Tillman was off his game, but produced seven points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.
Krystkowiak confirmed that sophomore guard Christian Popoola is transferring in search of playing time after not appearing in any games this season. Popoola apparently left the program on good terms, judging by Krystkowiak’s comments, in contrast to rotation player Vante Hendrix’s abrupt departure last month.
Senior guard Justin Ravenal scored 20 points for the Rattlers (3-9), who play Tuesday at Oregon.
Utah’s nonconference schedule is down to two home games, Friday vs. Northern Arizona and Dec. 29 vs. No. 6 Nevada.
• Utah pulls away with a 16-2 run in the second half, taking a 93-64 victory over Florida A&M.
• Senior guard Parker Van Dyke scores a career-high 20 points, making six 3-pointers.
• Utah (5-5) will try for its first two-game winning streak, hosting Northern Arizona on Friday.