Utah hoops’ Both Gach returns to lineup as Utes looking for answers in the middle of Oregon swing

Utah's Both Gach speaks during the Pac-12 NCAA college basketball media day, in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

Corvallis, Ore. • Larry Krystkowiak wasn’t dismissive about it, but he was certainly in no mood to dive into Both Gach’s return to the University of Utah lineup on Thursday evening.

In fairness, you couldn’t blame the ninth-year Utes head coach for essentially skipping the Gach portion of his postgame media availability. The sophomore guard, alone, was not making up for a poor first half on both ends as part of a 70-51 defeat at Oregon State.

“It’s nice, but this wasn’t about any individual or anything,” said Krystkowiak, whose team shot just 37.1 percent from the floor, while yielding 47.1 percent shooting to the Beavers. “Collectively, we just need to be a heck of a lot better.”

Yes, Utah needs to be much better on both ends, and it can start to get there now that one of its most-important players on both ends of the floor is back in the fold.

Gach, who missed the last four games with a right knee injury, began trending in a positive direction as this week unfolded. Last Saturday, after a decisive home win over Cal, Krystkowiak, who never goes out of his way to offer injury updates, said Gach was continuing treatment and was due for a follow-up doctor visit early this week. On Monday afternoon, speaking with ESPN 700’s Spence Checketts, freshman point guard Rylan Jones said Gach had begun doing basketball stuff in practice.

With this weekend’s Oregon swing seeming like a possibility for a return, Gach worked up a good sweat during pregame warmups Thursday night at Gill Coliseum. A Utah athletics official designated Gach as a game-time decision, but it was clear an hour before tip-off he would play.

At the 15:07 mark of the first half, Gach checked in for freshman guard Jaxon Brenchley, who started the previous four games with Gach shelved, plus Thursday night.

“Same as it was previously before his injury,” said sophomore wing Timmy Allen when asked how Utah readjusts now with Gach back in the lineup. “He’s a great player, we’re glad to have him back. He’ll get back in the flow a little bit. I’m looking for a better day from everybody.”

How to judge Gach on his effort Thursday after four games away is up for debate. He did not appear at all limited in warmups before Kystkowiak took the rational route and brought him off the bench. He scored eight points on 3-for-7 shooting, but most of that damage came in the second half when the outcome was already decided. His lone first-half bucket, a 10-foot jumper off the window, came off a feed from Rylan Jones after Gach made a nifty cut into the lane.

However one chooses to view his reintroduction to the lineup Thursday night, Utah is more dangerous when Gach is in there and playing well. In fairness, Gach was mired in a January-long slump before his injury.

At his best, though, Gach represents the Utes’ longest, most-athletic, most-capable perimeter defender. Offensively, Gach can get to the rim faster and more effectively than anyone else Krystkowiak has at his disposal.

How Krystkowiak uses Gach with six games to go in the regular season, and whether or not Gach can regain the form that helped bury Nevada, Minnesota and Kentucky earlier this season, will be overarching factors to pay attention to for the rest of February and into March.

“The get-back is harder than the playing, truthfully,” Allen said after Utah beat Cal last weekend. “Being injured and just trying to get back to where you were. Mentally, more than anything, just having confidence in your body is tough.”


When • Sunday, 7 p.m. MST

TV • FS1