In the wake of the University of Utah’s fourth straight loss at Arizona State, Timmy Allen spoke with conviction.
The sophomore guard noted the Utes are young, but he refused to pin their struggles on it. A lot of guys had a lot stuff to figure out, and if that meant players-only conversations turning more detailed and more serious, so be it.
Larry Krystkowiak is not in the business of sharing the inner workings of his program, so what was said behind closed doors this week in the run-up to Washington’s arrival at the Huntsman Center on Thursday night is unknown. Whatever was said, it seemed to take effect.
Utah had no answer for the Huskies’ zone. It struggled to find an offensive rhythm, an ongoing storyline lately. It trailed by 12 with 8:14 to play and still, it persevered. The Utes continued to play hard, continued to chip away. They defended, they hit free throws and came away with a 67-66 win to break the four-game losing streak.
An argument can be made that, to this point, Thursday was Utah’s most important win of the season.
“What I’ve challenged our guys to do, let’s just play really hard,” Krystkowiak said. “A lot of times, if you’re getting bogged down statistically or shooting, whatever it might be, that’s the way I always tried to play. You play hard, you set a great screen, try to play some great D and usually, the game will honor you back if you approach it the right way.
“We’re still young, there’s a lot of freshmen and sophomores running around. I know there’s expectations when things go well, but you can’t get ahead of your skis.”
With Utah now looking for a sweep of the Washington schools on Saturday night with Washington State in town, guys who had been struggling found themselves on Thursday.
Sophomore forward Riley Battin, who was averaging 8.5 points on 36 percent shooting this month, broke out for a game-high 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting, while hitting two of Utah’s three 3-pointers on the night.
Rylan Jones shot 2-for-11 and 0-for-8 from deep, but those will go down as footnotes. The freshman point guard scored all 13 of his points in the second half when he went 9-for-10 at the foul line, while adding nine assists and seven rebounds.
Without Jones’ tenacity late in the second half, Utah has a hard time winning this game.
“It’s the essence of a team,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve had a funk with a number of guys here recently and it’s been tough to find an identity. I thought it was good for two or three guys to find a little rhythm and the essence of a team is, you don’t need everybody clicking on all cylinders to be able to get a win in a game like this.
“You’ve gotta have a little feel-good. It’s hard. Guys have been busting it, working hard and we’ve had a heck of a schedule with more good teams ahead."
Utah found a way to win Thursday despite Both Gach continuing to struggle. Since scoring a season-high 24 points against Oregon on Jan. 4, Gach has scored a total of 16 points on 6-for-31 shooting in the four games since.
Utah to open 2020-21 vs. Utah Valley
Utah announced on Friday morning that it will open the 2020-21 season on Nov. 10 against Utah Valley at the Huntsman Center.
The Utes and Wolverines have played once before, an 87-80 Utah win on Dec. 6, 2016.
Utah will pay UVU $80,000 to play the game, per an athletic department official. That number is a relative bargain given the fact the Utes paid Mississippi Valley State $98,000, UC Davis $97,000 and Central Arkansas $95,000 this season, per GRAMA requests made by The Salt Lake Tribune. In fairness, Utah and UVU are just 46 miles from each other, meaning flight and hotel costs will not come into play.
Utah now has confirmed matchups for next season with Utah Valley, Missouri, and at Battle 4 Atlantis. The Utes will travel to Missouri on a date yet to be announced. That will be the back end of a home-and-home series, which saw the Utes win, 77-59, at the Huntsman Center on Nov. 16, 2017.
The 2020 field at Atlantis, annually among the nation’s highest-profile holiday tournaments, is stacked. Utah will be joined by Creighton, Duke, Memphis, Ohio State, Texas A&M, West Virginia and Wichita State.
UTAH VS WASHINGTON STATE
At the Huntsman Center
Tipoff: Saturday, 5 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700 AM
Series history: Utah leads, 24-3
Last meeting: Utah, 92-79 (2019)
About the Cougars: Washington State swept the Oregon schools last weekend in Pullman, but is coming off a 78-56 loss at 23rd-ranked Colorado on Thursday night. Cougars sophomore wing CJ Elleby, the team’s leading scorer, led three players in double figures with 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting. … The Cougars are part of a logjam in the middle of the Pac-12 standings, one of seven teams within two games of league-leading Stanford, which is 4-1. … Washington State is giving up an average of 67.5 points per game, including at least 71 points in each of its last six contests. Its field goal percentage defense sits at 45%, which is last in the Pac-12 and 281st nationally.
About the Utes: Down by as many as 12 with 8:14 to play on Thursday night, Utah went 13-for-14 from the free-throw line to close the game and pull out a 67-66 win over Washington. The Utes shot 33.9% from the floor and just 12.5% from 3-point range, but hauled in 18 offensive rebounds and were plus-nine on the glass for the night. … Rylan Jones went 9-for-10 from the line, canceling out 2-for-11 shooting from the field, finishing with 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. … Utah has won 11 straight vs. Washington State, dating back to a 49-46 loss in Pullman on Jan. 12, 2014. … The Utes are going for their first sweep of the Washington schools since Feb. 15-17, 2018. Over that stretch, they beat the Huskies, 70-58, in Seattle, and the Cougars, 77-70, in Pullman. That Utah team swept the Washington schools at home as well that season.