Las Vegas • The University of Utah men’s basketball team can’t win away from the Huntsman Center.
That narrative has hovered over the Utes for much of this season, but in fairness, it is based primarily in truth given they finished 0-9 in Pac-12 road games. The fact of that matter, though, is that Utah has won away from home, just not lately. Utah is 1-10 in true road games this season and 3-2 on a neutral floor.
Furthermore, as eighth-seeded Utah prepares to face ninth-seeded Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament at T-Mobile Arena, it is worth noting that the Utes’ best win this season took place in that building, a 69-66 win over then-No. 6 Kentucky on Dec. 18.
“Season No. 3 is right around the corner and I think it’s pretty apparent that we’ve run the gamut against everybody,” Krystkowiak said Saturday afternoon following Utah’s 74-72 overtime win against Colorado at the Huntsman Center, where the Utes were 12-2 this season. “I think there’s going to be a lot of optimism from everybody in Vegas that you can compete with people. We’re all on a neutral court, we’ve won a game against Kentucky in that arena, so it’s not something magical that, hey, we can’t win a road game.”
On May 17, 2018, Utah announced a two-game series with Kentucky. The front end was last season in Lexington, with the back end this season in Las Vegas. Rarely do the Wildcats play true road games against anyone, let alone Power Five programs. Instead, UK looks to do a two-game series in which it hosts one, then plays the other on a neutral floor. In recent years, that neutral floor has been Madison Square Garden.
In the run-up to the Kentucky game in December, and again on Saturday, Krystkowiak told the story of how during negotiations with Kentucky, the Wildcats wanted that second game at MSG. Utah stood firm and said it wanted the second game at T-Mobile, which Kentucky eventually agreed to.
PAC-12 TOURNAMENT PICKS
Salt Lake Tribune reporter Josh Newman handicaps the Pac-12 Tournament:
• Oregon won the Pac-12 regular-season title outright, which means the Ducks were the league’s best team, but the fact they had five league losses signifies the league did not have a dominant, lights-out team this winter. Ducks fans should be watching Utah-Oregon State intently on Wednesday. They swept the Utes, although the game in Salt Lake City on Jan. 4 was a dogfight. Oregon split with Oregon State, and in-state blood rivalries tend to be unpredictable. If I’m Oregon, I want Utah in a Thursday quarterfinal.
• No. 12 seed Washington went in the tank after point guard Quade Green was ruled academically ineligible in January, but the Huskies are coming off a sweep of the Arizona schools last week. They are your X-factor as things get going Wednesday.
• No. 2 seed UCLA did itself no bubble favors by losing at USC on Saturday. The Bruins seemingly need at least one, and probably two wins in Vegas to get off the bubble and secure an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. Two wins means getting to Saturday night’s final. That’s a tall order, given it would likely include going through either Arizona State or Colorado in a semifinal, but manageable.
• The sixth-seeded Buffs have faded horribly down the stretch, including that 74-72 loss to Utah on Saturday. If Colorado is going to wake up and play to its potential with a host of older guys, now would be the time. If Wednesday goes chalk, a Colorado-Arizona State quarterfinal would offer the most intrigue.
• Bottom line: Oregon is the best team in the field, and Dana Altman has done a Coach-of-the-Year-caliber job. Payton Pritchard is the best player in the Pac-12 and if he plays like it, I think the Ducks win the Pac-12 Tournament, while building towards an NCAA Tournament 3-seed, even a low 2-seed if things break right.
One reason Utah wanted T-Mobile is that it gave the Utes a fighting chance to have some of their fans in the building amongst a sea of blue. Another reason is that Utah has struggled at T-Mobile since the Pac-12 Tournament moved there from MGM Grand Garden Arena in 2017, so it wanted more experience at the four-year-old venue.
Utah (16-14, 7-11 Pac-12) is winless in the Pac-12 Tournament at T-Mobile Arena, losing each of the last two years to sixth-seeded Oregon in a quarterfinal as the No. 3 seed, and in 2017 as the No. 4 seed to No. 5 seed Cal in a quarterfinal.
The 2019 loss at T-Mobile sticks out more than 2017 and 2018. In 2019, Utah stepped into a hurricane, losing to an Oregon team that peaked at the perfect time, winning 10 straight, including the Pac-12 Tournament, and eventually advanced to the Sweet 16.
“I think we’ve talked about getting a bye the last few years, which we’ve gotten,” Krystkowiak said. “The reality is, we ran into one of the hottest teams. As a college basketball fan last year, if you would’ve asked who the hottest team was, anyone who knew anything about college basketball would’ve said Oregon. They won 10 games in a row, and we just happened to be about game five.
“Some of it is explainable. It’s not a mystery, but yeah, we’ve struggled in Vegas once it came to T-Mobile.”
Rylan Jones out vs. Oregon State
Krystkowiak indicated that freshman point guard Rylan Jones will not play vs. Oregon State. Jones suffered a concussion early in the first half at Cal on Feb. 29, missed the remainder of that game, then sat vs. Colorado on Saturday.
Addressing reporters after practice on Tuesday afternoon at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center, Krystkowiak offered a flat “No, no” when asked if Jones has practiced, or has even gotten through Utah’s concussion protocol. Jones was out of view when media members were let inside the gym at the conclusion of practice, but an athletic department spokesman told The Salt Lake Tribune that Jones did travel with he team.
As Jones sat on Saturday, Both Gach slid over to point guard and was often brilliant in finishing with a career-high 28 points, including three free throws with 0.6 seconds left in overtime to give Utah a 74-72 win.
With Jones out for Wednesday afternoon, the starting lineup vs. the Beavers will presumably be the same as it was on Saturday. Gach, Timmy Allen, Alfonso Plummer, Mikael Jantunen and Branden Carlson. Plummer is coming off 21 points and five three-pointers against Colorado in his first career start.
NO. 9 UTAH VS. NO. 8 OREGON STATE
At T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Tipoff: Wednesday, 1 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700AM
Series history: Utah leads, 16-12
Last meeting: Oregon State, 70-51
About the Utes: Utah is coming off a 74-72 overtime win over Colorado to close the regular season. Sophomore guard Both Gach poured in a career-high 28 points on his way to being named Pac-12 Player of the Week on Monday afternoon … Rylan Jones’ status is up in the air. The freshman point guard suffered a concussion on Feb. 29 at Cal, then missed Saturday’s win over Colorado. Gach would assume point guard duties if Jones cannot go … Utah split two games with Oregon State this season, an 81-69 win in Salt Lake City on Jan. 2 and a 70-51 loss in Corvallis on Feb. 13 … The Utes and Beavers have never met in the Pac-12 Tournament … Utah is 6-8 all-time at the Pac-12 Tournament, but are winless since advancing to the championship game in 2016.
About the Beavers: Oregon State registered a home sweep of the Bay Area teams last weekend, a three-point win over Stanford and an 18-point win over Cal, to match Utah at 7-11 in the Pac-12. The Beavers had the tiebreaker based on a 1-1 record against regular-season champion, while Utah was 0-2 against the Ducks … The Beavers last won a Pac-12 Tournament game in 2018, a 69-66 decision over Washington in the first round … Senior guard Tres Tinkle was named All-Pac-12 first team for the third time on Monday after averaging 18.4 points and 7.0 rebounds in 30 games for the 17-13 Beavers … In two games against Utah this season, Tinkle averaged 15.0 points on just 35.7% shooting and 25% from three-point range.