Red All Over: You can question whatever you want about the Runnin’ Utes, but not Rylan Jones’ toughness

Washington guard Jamal Bey, left, guards Utah guard Rylan Jones, right, in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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In an effort to be transparent, let me clarify that I am not a doctor, let alone an orthopaedic specialist.

With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, I was in my seat Sunday night at the Huntsman Center, watching as Rylan Jones lay on the floor in pain, holding his left shin after drawing a charge on USC’s Daniel Utomi.

Jones stayed down, the building fell silent. After about 90 seconds, he got to his feet, but put no pressure on his left leg and had to be helped off. His afternoon was done. Following a well-earned 79-65 win, Jones could be seen on the floor with crutches and ice on that left leg.

At that time, if you’d told me Jones would have been able to play Wednesday night at Stanford, I would have laughed, but Timmy Allen knew better. Addressing reporters Sunday night, Allen said he knew Jones was going to be fine and that he was a tough kid.

The Utes arrived at Maples Pavilion just after 5:30 p.m. local time for a 7 p.m. tip, with Jones in tow. No crutches, no noticeable limp, in uniform ready to at least get loose and see how he felt. He went through early warmups with his teammates, but when Jones began going through his normal pregame routine with assistant coach Henry Martinez, that was the surest sign he would play.

“I told y’all on Sunday that he was going to play,” Allen said following a 70-62 loss to the Cardinal. “That’s enough said, y’all know who he is by this point. He’s tough, he’s the best freshman in the Pac-12, so I expected nothing less.”

Jones played 32 minutes with a padded compression sleeve on his left shin. From the media seating at Maples, he did not appear to be moving at top speed, but his lack of full mobility was not a major hindrance.

That’s not to say he played well, because it was a struggle, shooting 0-for-3 with four turnovers, while Tyrell Terry, another quality Pac-12 freshman guard, scored a game-high 27 points. A healthy amount of Terry’s 27 came with Jones guarding him, although Jones was able to lock down in crunchtime with Utah trying to come all the way back from an 18-point first-half hole.

The point here is, Jones is a gamer and certainly the toughest kid Larry Krystkowiak has at his disposal. To doubt that there was at least a possibility of playing him on Wednesday was silly in hindsight because, as Allen noted, we know who Jones is at this point. The type of toughness Jones has displayed is something Krystkowiak wants to instill in his entire roster, but that’s a topic for a different day.

Final thought: Jones has missed one game this season, Dec. 14 vs. Weber State, as he recovered from a rib injury. Can you imagine how bad that rib injury must have been for Jones to actually miss a game?

Other Runnin’ Utes thoughts

• This is the most-maddening team I’ve had the pleasure of covering. Mostly lights out at home, mostly unprepared for a fight on the road. That is the topic for Friday’s story, the unpreparedness out of the gate away from the Huntsman Center. It’s a real hindrance, and is helping to guarantee Utah’s season ending at the Pac-12 Tournament instead of the NIT.

• Every Power Five/Big East/AAC team that winds up in the NIT has a flawed resume, just like Utah. The NIT is somehow still on the table, but a win over Cal on Saturday is critical. As of Thursday morning, the Utes have a NET of 88, a 3-9 record against Quadrant 1 teams, and a combined eight wins against Quadrant 1 and 2 teams. The eight wins across Q1 and Q2 makes this season even more maddening from a resume/postseason perspective.

• Krystkowiak and his staff have had a fruitful relationship lately with Exum Elite, which has produced Rylan Jones, Jaxon Brenchley and Branden Carlson. The Utes are going to keep recruiting the state of Utah as necessary, so it would be beneficial to keep that relationship healthy and churning. More on that down the road.

• Both Gach putting up 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting went completely under the radar Wednesday night after Utah fell behind by 18 early, and almost stole the game anyway. The 15 points and 54.5% shooting from the floor represent his highest outputs since the beginning of Pac-12-play just after the New Year. Gach was not overpowering, but he was effective as a slasher getting to the rim. More of that will benefit the Utes the rest of the way.

Your questions

Q: “What do you think Utah needs to do to get the NIT invite? I think they need the invite for experience. What kind of an impact would this have on this team?” — @UteManG

A: I think a trip to the NIT, which would obviously include more practices and at least one more game, would benefit a young team like Utah. No one’s goal is the NIT, but in this case, it would give the Utes a taste of the postseason and plant the seeds for long-term goals in 2020-21.

What has to happen at this point to get there is a tough question. We’ll start with not losing to Cal on Saturday, because that would be four Quadrant 3 losses and the three they already have are not great. Beyond that, Utah needs to hope regular-season champions in low and mid-major leagues win their respective conference tournaments because if they don’t, they get automatic bids to the NIT, which would take away at-large opportunities from Power Conference hopefuls like the Utes.

Q: “We know East Coasters’ feelings about pizza anywhere outside the tri-state area. Have you found any type of food out here you like better than back home yet?” — @utenick

A: I do not mean to come off as pretentious when I say I was living an hour from New York City, which is the restaurant, if not the food capital of the world. That said, the only thing you’re really not getting in spades from the New York/New Jersey area is Mexican food.

I’ve had a couple of very good meals at Red Iguana, which my wife and I found on a whim when we visited Salt Lake City after I’d accepted my job at the Trib, but before I’d started. We’ve been a couple of times since December and I find it to be excellent.

Beyond that, no, I have not found anything I like better than back home.

Q: “The torn labrum... is that the main reason Jaylon Johnson didn’t play in the bowl game even if it wasn’t talked about publicly?” — @MenaceSocietyUT

A: Good question. I sure hope a reporter in Indianapolis does his/her job and asks Johnson this when he meets the media on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

I’m willing to bet Johnson would have skipped anything that wasn’t the College Football Playoff or Rose Bowl, whether or not he was healthy. Now that we know he was in fact not healthy, what purpose would going through bowl prep, then playing in the Alamo Bowl have served, knowing he was declaring for the NFL Draft after his junior season.

I don’t know if it’s the main reason, but it is surely one reason.

Q: “Do you think Larry or Harlan truly recognize the level of apathy the fans have for the basketball program?” — @UTflyfisherman

A: This is simple. If one or neither of them can’t recognize the apathy, then that’s a problem because it’s obvious. Why is it obvious? Have you looked around the Huntsman Center this season?

Utah is listing the average attendance over 13 home games as 10,536 per game. That number, clearly a farce to anyone who has actually been to a game this season, represents tickets sold, not actual butts in the seats. But OK, let’s say that’s actually the number. That means the Huntsman Center is only 70 percent full for a game. That is apathy.

Winning usually cures these types of things, and there simply hasn’t been enough of that lately for anyone’s liking. For a comparison, the last time Utah went to the NCAA Tournament was 2016. That season, over a 17-game home slate that included BYU and San Diego State, the Huntsman Center drew an average of 13,053 per game.

We’re not writing code here, folks. Is the fan base apathetic right now? Yes. If they start contending again, and preferably schedule a name program or two at home, will fans start coming back? Also yes.

Random musings

“These are the kind of things I think about when I’m sitting home alone and the power goes out.” — George Carlin, 1990

• The fact the University of Washington is in last place in the Pac-12 by a full two games entering Thursday is wild. Even without Quade Green, the Huskies have no business being in the basement.

• Staying with U-Dub, we’re still giving Isaiah Stewart Pac-12 Freshman of the Year despite the Huskies falling off a cliff, right? I think the freshman talent across the league is strong, but Stewart is head and shoulders above his peers.

• A thing you don’t really appreciate until you’re older and you have a little more sense: The skycap at an airport. I was late getting to SLC a couple weeks ago, Terminal 2 was a madhouse, so I decided to trust the skycap with my checked bag bound for Eugene. It got there, so that was a couple bucks well-spent on the tip.

• If I promise nothing else as a Power Five beat writer, I promise you will never see me tweet out hand measurements from the NFL Combine. That would be a jailable offense if I had any say in the matter.

• I enjoyed Stanford’s Maples Pavilion on Wednesday night. Another old Pac-12 building, but it got a big makeover about 15 years ago and is an intimate, aesthetically-pleasing facility. The shame is no one goes there, even this year when Stanford is good and contending for the NCAA Tournament.

• While we’re here, an updated list of Pac-12 gyms I’ve been in.

Arizona: Few frills, but has history and brought the noise for a Thursday game against Utah.

Oregon: Gorgeous building, but does not feel at all like a college venue.

UCLA: It’s Pauley Pavilion, enough said. Probably No. 1 if there were any sort of crowd on Super Bowl Sunday.

Stanford: Nice, bright facility to watch a ballgame, but they don’t draw.

Utah: My first assignment at the Salt Lake Tribune was Utah-BYU on Dec. 4. That left an impression.

Colorado: Another no-frills deal in a big cement box, but the place got loud with about 9,000 there for a 4 p.m. Sunday tip.

Oregon State: Corvallis is a pain to get to. Other than that, no complaints about my time there, including Gill Coliseum.

USC: Nice place, but felt more like a concert hall than a basketball arena.

Arizona State: Will turn 46-years old on April 29, and looks its age.

• The best part about any flight is at the end when it’s time to deboard and the people in the back stand up immediately like they’re going somewhere. Ma’am, you had a window seat in row 32, sit back down, settle in. It’s going to be a while.

• The biggest game in the Pac-12 this week is being played by its two hottest teams, Arizona State and UCLA, yet the game is relegated to Pac-12 Networks. The Arizona Republic covered this topic well earlier this week.