Larry Krystkowiak has given no indication that he is willing to schedule Weber State in the future.
The third and final round of the Beehive Classic on Saturday at Vivint Smart Home Arena took that decision out of the ninth-year Utah coach’s hands. As part of the three-year, round-robin agreement, the Utes were forced to deal with an in-state opponent they’re unlikely to see for a long while after Saturday.
Minus Rylan Jones, out due to injury, in an NBA arena that was at least three-quarters empty at tipoff, Utah did not have nearly its best game on either end, but no matter. A mostly comfortable 60-49 win over Weber State gives the Utes eight wins in 10 games to open the season, and sends them into a fascinating stretch of upcoming games with some momentum.
“It’s a big win for us and I’m proud of the guys,” Krystkowiak said. “It was a long week. Finals week is always hard to get through and there’s a fine line when you’re dealing with as many injuries as we have, how hard you can practice. It was a challenge, and I give our guys credit.”
Krystkowiak called Jones’ rib injury, suffered on Dec. 7 vs. Central Arkansas, a “daily thing.” He offered no timetable, but did offer skepticism that Jones would be able to play Wednesday against No. 8 Kentucky at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (9 p.m., ESPN2).
With Jones in street clothes, freshman Jaxon Brenchley got the start, but Both Gach assumed point guard duties. The sophomore played a career-high 36 minutes, finishing with eight points, six rebounds, three assists and three turnovers, while helping to steer Utah through a sluggish first half.
“I feel like I played pretty solid,” Gach said. “I got guys open shots, tried to move the ball, tried to get our offense going, make the right plays.
“Whenever Rylan’s not playing at the 1, I step in, so this week, I was focusing on trying to execute the offense and get guys open shots during practice. We’re different without him because he does a lot of things for us.”
UTAH 60, WEBER STATE 49
• Utah has won four straight games and eight of 10 to start the season after a 60-49 defeat of Weber State.
• Freshman point guard Rylan Jones did not dress after suffering a rib injury Dec. 7 vs. Central Arkansas. His availability vs. Kentucky on Wednesday is TBD.
• Sophomore Both Gach played a career-high 36 minutes, almost all of it at the point, in place of Jones. Gach finished with eight points, six rebounds and three assists.
Utah (8-2) was able to break open an ugly game out of intermission by ripping off a 15-5 run to open the second half. After a Riley Battin layup extended the lead to 10, Brenchley stole the ball in the frontcourt. On the secondary break, Battin tossed a one-handed pass behind his head to Branden Carlson, who dunked for a 12-point lead.
Utah’s lead reached as many as 18 in the second half, while a handful of Utes helped contain high-scoring Weber State senior guard Jerrick Harding. Timmy Allen (19 points, seven rebounds, four assists) took the lead vs. Harding, with Gach and former JUCO All-American Alfonso Plummer also getting turns.
Harding shot just 5 or 14, scoring 17 points, but half of that came inside the final 7:00 with the outcome no longer in doubt.
“It was kind of a collective effort against him,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s the head of their snake certainly, and I thought we did a good job for the most part. When our coverage was dialed in, we did a pretty good job and made him miss.”
“We just wanted to take him out and deny him as much as possible; he’s a great player,” Allen said. “A little, short lefty, but he finds his way in there and knocks it down. You have to stay attached to him. He’s a great player, but we did the job tonight.”
Utah will now step up a couple of weight classes over the next few weeks. Beyond Kentucky on Wednesday, the Utes will face No. 25, unbeaten San Diego State on Dec. 21 in Los Angeles, then open Pac-12 play at the Huntsman Center Jan. 2 against Oregon State and Jan. 4 vs. Oregon.
“I’m pleased, the fact we’ve played 10 games and won eight of them, there’s a lot to be taken for that,” Krystkowiak said. “I think our guys have done a nice job together, but this a little bit of a different animal.”