In the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament, the Runnin’ Utes will take on USC. The first time the two teams met, Utah pulled out a win on the road in Los Angeles 80-69, and they expect a similar result on Thursday in Vegas.
Since the Utes did not find out who they would play until late Wednesday night, they’ve created a game plan but have mainly been focusing on what they can do to improve from their most recent outing against Colorado. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak thinks the close win over the Buffs will motivate the entire team to perform and execute at a higher level.
Utah may be on a seven-game winning streak, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it.
“We should come in here as though we lost because we did a lot of things poorly, and so I think it was a good little wake up call,” Krystkowiak said. “We were able to learn a lesson without learning the lesson of the loss.”
With the amount of experience he has on this team, Krystkowiak is confident his guys will be able to use this near-loss as momentum, but experience isn’t going to matter much when it comes down to it. The head coach is certain that any momentum for any team goes out the door once that first whistle sounds.
Utah point guard Brandon Taylor thinks any school can be a threat in the Pac-12 tournament, and the Utes will not be overlooking anyone they might come across in Sin City.
“Everyone is beating everyone,” Taylor said. “It’s such a competitive league, and it’s wide open. The 12th place team or the 10th best team, their record doesn’t really reflect who they are.”
As Krystkowiak has always reminded the Utes, they should never fear losing, but they should never leave the floor feeling like they could have done more to get a win, and Taylor feels the same way. Although Taylor thinks any team could be a challenge, he is confident that if Utah continues to work hard and is completely focused they will be able to get the job done.
Utah doesn’t even need to play its best offensive game, just as it didn’t against the Buffs last Saturday night. It just needs to be ready to go on defense.
“It may be ugly, but as long as we go out and give it 110 percent, and if someone beats us, someone beats us,” Taylor said. “As long as we don’t beat ourselves in this tournaments we’ll be in great shape.”
Having the Pac-12 Player of the Year in Jakob Poeltl only helps the Utes’ case, and the Austrian could not agree more with Taylor and Krystkowiak. Utah has nothing to lose but plenty left to gain by performing well this weekend and it should embrace the spotlight.
Poeltl will make sure he’s giving it everything he has and hopes the rest of the team will do the same, no matter how long each player is on the court.
“There’s no point in going half speed,” Poeltl said. “You got to go 100 percent all the time — otherwise you’re going to lose.”
Overall, Krystkowiak thinks his team will be able to feed off of the environment surrounding the tournament. Being in Vegas is an experience like no other, and there is still plenty left for his team to accomplish against the Trojans in the quarterfinals.
“I grew up in a real little town in Montana, and our divisional tournaments and state tournaments meant the world to a lot of those communities,” Krystkowiak said. “Now it’s kind of on a larger stage. When I get to March my mindset changes completely, and to be a part of it, even right in the thick of it, is that much more exciting.”
Game time is set for 6:15 p.m. PT.