The lessons from Larry Krystkowiak's NBA playing and coaching career keep him from ever saying that any game is especially important, because there are always a bunch of them ahead on the schedule.
The calendar enables him to cheat, though. It’s March. So the Utah coach looked at the Pac-12 basketball landscape last weekend and emphasized the value of a win at Washington State. Here comes another opportunity to rise or fall in the standings, Saturday afternoon vs. Colorado at the CU Events Center in Boulder, Colo.
“And guess what, the next one's going to be the biggest game of the year,” Krystkowiak said.
That's not necessarily because of the opponent, just the recognition that with only three regular-season games remaining, Utah could be seeded almost anywhere from No. 2 to No. 10 in the Pac-12 tournament.
This conference is crazy. Last-place California's upset of first-place Washington on Thursday was irrelevant to the standings (the No. 25 Huskies clinched the league title), but it was illustrative of Pac-12 basketball this season.
Just try predicting how this stuff will play out, in Utah’s case. The Utes (9-6) are tied with Oregon State for third place, a half-game behind Arizona State. Yet they’re only two games ahead of the teams tied for ninth, Colorado and Oregon.
Arizona State 10-6
Oregon State 9-6
Washington State 4-11
That’s why Saturday’s game also matters to the Buffaloes. “I told our team, ‘There’s two kinds of teams this time of year. There’s teams that are preparing for postseason [play]. There’s teams that are preparing for spring break,’ ” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said via CUBuffs.com. “I asked then which group we’re in. They answered the right one. But it’s one thing to say that. You have to come out and play that way.”
The teams’ January meeting offers few clues about what may unfold Saturday, because each half of Utah’s 78-69 victory was so extreme and the personnel outlook could be much different this time.
The Utes exploited the injury absence of Colorado point guard McKinley Wright with a trapping defense that forced five straight turnovers as they built a 41-19 halftime lead. The Buffs then scored 50 points in the second half, causing mild concern at the end.
Utah forward Timmy Allen posted 21 points and 10 rebounds that day. He has missed the last two games with a back injury; Krystkowiak's only update this week was that the program would be “conservative” in evaluating Allen.
Utah and nearly every other Pac-12 team are competing for a top-four finish and a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Utes will come out of this weekend with no worse than a tie for fourth place, and potentially could be alone in second. Regardless, the standings will remain volatile through next week, when the Utes host USC and UCLA.
UTAH AT COLORADO
At the CU Events Center, Boulder, Colo.
Tipoff: Saturday, 4 p.m. MST
Radio: ESPN 700.
Records: Utah 15-12 (9-6 Pac-12); Colorado 16-11 (7-8 Pac-12).
Series history: Colorado leads, 27-23.
Last meeting: Utah 78, Colorado 69 (Jan. 20).
About the Utes: Utah already has established a program high for conference road wins in the Pac-12 era by going 6-2 and will conclude the regular season next week with home games vs. USC and UCLA. … The Utes are shooting 38 percent from 3-point range and will face a Colorado defense that allows opponents to shoot only 32 percent, ranking second in the Pac-12. … Utah centers Jayce Johnson and Novak Topalovic shot a combined 0 for 7 vs. Colorado in Salt Lake City in January.
About the Buffaloes: Colorado had a five-game winning streak before losing last week at Washington State (76-74) and Washington (64-55). … The Buffaloes have four double-figures scorers: McKinley Wright (13.2), Tyler Bey (12.6), Lucas Siewert (10.6) and Shane Gatling (10.3). Gatling scored 21 points against Utah in January, although he shot only 6 of 18 from the field. Bey was 1 of 7, scoring two points.