Last fall, the Utah football team sent shockwaves through the nation when it upended No. 5 Stanford. Tonight, the Runnin’ Utes will get their own shot at a massive upset when they host No. 4 Arizona in the Huntsman Center.
“It’s pretty dang cool to have an opportunity like this,” said head coach Larry Krystkowiak. “I am a little more nervous than I am excited.”
Three weeks ago, the Wildcats were enjoying the luxuries of competing with an undefeated record and being ranked first in the nation before forward Brandon Ashley suffered a season-ending injury, which turned their season around. The loss of one of their starters led to two heartbreaking defeats in their last four games, including being upset by archrival Arizona State last Friday.
Even with Ashley out, Utah isn’t about to underestimate Arizona.
“They still have a couple All-Americans,” said junior Delon Wright. “We look at them as the same team, even though they are a player short.”
The Utes have lost only once at home this season, and the school is expecting a near-capacity crowd tonight. The crowd, along with Salt Lake’s altitude, should give Utah a homecourt advantage.
“We are real tough to beat on the home court,” Wright said. “It’s going to be a real tough game for them to come in and get the win. I love playing in front of the Huntsman crowd — it will be fun to see the crowd here, and they’ll bring us energy.”
In their last matchup against Arizona in Tuscon, the Utes were badly beaten on the boards. The Wildcats won the rebounding battle 40-29, collecting 20 offensive rebounds en route to a 65-56 victory over Utah. In order for the Utes to pull off the upset this time around, they will have to keep the rebound margin much closer.
“Our focal point is on the glass, but No. 1, you have to get them to miss shots,” Krystkowiak said. “That’s where our problem starts. When they miss, you have to make sure they don’t get the ball. They have a lot of size, and they absolutely pounded us last time in Tucson.”
The Utes will be looking to get back on the winning trail after being on the wrong end of an 80-66 score Saturday at UCLA. Krystkowiak doesn’t expect any hangover from that defeat.
“This is pretty resilient group,” he said. “Every time we have a bump in the road, they come back and respond. They did that Monday in practice, and I expect them to do that in the game.”
Each one of Utah’s five remaining opponents are projected to be in the NCAA Tournament. A win against Arizona could springboard the Utes to a successful finish to the season and a place on the tournament bubble. Based off what they have done this year and in year’s past against the Wildcats, Utah sees no reason why they won’t be able to pull off the stunner.
“It’s the best team we have played since I have been here, but there’s not really any intimidation,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s the only team we haven’t beat, but it’s not like we have been getting blown out of the water or should be fearful. We just need to stay true with everything we do in practice. We need to play hard, play smart and try to play together.”
The Utes and Wildcats tip off at 8 p.m.