Arizona's McKale Center remains the most frustrating venue in the Pac-12 for Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who's well aware of what any road victory against the conference's flagship basketball program would have meant to the Utes.
Utah barely missed a chance to upset the Wildcats in early January, when Parker Van Dyke’s would-be winning shot rimmed out in another near-miss in Tucson.
Stanford’s Maples Pavilion is a close second, just because of how frequently the Utah have been in tight games with the Cardinal, only to lose at the end. Even if Stanford lacks Arizona’s credentials, the Utes have walked out of that building with similar degrees of disappointment.
Utah at Stanford
Thursday, 7 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Networks.
Krystkowiak is 0-5 at Maples. His Utes (9-8, 3-2 Pac-12) will take another shot Thursday night.
“There have been an awful lot of close games there, there's no doubt about that,” Krystkowiak said Tuesday, during his weekly news conference.
Krystkowiak's first Utah team, on its way to a 3-15 conference record in 2011-12, even had a good chance to win at Stanford. Chris Hines and Jiggy Watkins each missed a tying 3-point attempt at the end of a 68-65 defeat.
The killer, though, came on New Year’s Day in 2016. Utah took a No. 21 ranking to Stanford, with a team that eventually would earn a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Utes lost 70-68 in overtime, although the game never should have reached that stage. Utah missed its last five free-throw attempts in regulation, including a pair of misses each by dependable shooters Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor in the last 19 seconds.
The odds of that happening were “close to the probability of [winning] the state lottery,” Krystkowiak said Tuesday. “That one stung a little bit."
In 2014, guard Delon Wright was trapped and the Utes failed to launch a last shot in a 61-60 defeat. And in 2017, the Utes' most recent visit, they faded at the end of an 81-75 loss as Stanford forward Reid Travis scored 26 points.
The consolation of this season’s schedule is the Utes already got Travis, now with Kentucky, out of the way. As a graduate transfer, he scored 16 points in Kentucky’s 88-61 win in December.
The Utes enter this week’s action in a four-way tie for fourth place in the Pac-12. The three teams above Utah in the standings all are in the ESPN Bracketology’s NCAA Tournament field, a step forward for the struggling conference. Joe Lunardi’s projections have Washington as a No. 9 seed, Arizona as a No. 11 seed and Arizona State as a No. 12 seed, playing a First Four game.
“Some cream is rising,” Krystkowiak said, although he views the conference as wide open with no dominant team. “Everybody’s shown their weaknesses.”
Hendrix to Fresno State
Vante Hendrix, who left Utah's program in late November, announced he will transfer to Fresno State. Hendrix presumably will be eligible in the second semester of the 2019-20 season.
Hendrix appeared in the Utes' first four games as a redshirt freshman guard, averaging 7.8 points in 18 minutes. His tenure ended with an exchange with Krystkowiak on the sideline after he was taken out in the late stages of a loss to Hawaii in the Wooden Legacy at Fullerton, Calif., and was absent from the next two games of the tournament. He left the team the following week. The in-game incident has been described as a source as the “last straw” in a series of insubordinate actions by Hendrix, who thanked the coaching staff in his farewell message.