In my last column, I told Ute fans far and wide to drop everything and make their way to Las Vegas to catch the Runnin’ Utes play in their first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game. If for some reason you actually listened to me, I apologize, as you traveled all that way just to see your team fall to Oregon for the third time this season, with this loss being the worst of them all.
But as the Ducks, who are now the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament champions, were busy cutting down the nets and hoisting up the Pac-12 Championship trophy, head coach Larry Krystkowiak and company weren’t feeling sorry for themselves in the losing locker room.
They know how bad they played, and while there may never be an instance where a 31-point loss is good, this might just be the wake-up call the Utes need heading into the NCAA Tournament next week.
“Personally, I’ve always been a big fan or a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and I like being humbled before the biggest phase of the season starts,” Krsytkowiak said.
I’m not trying to make excuses for this team. The Utes walked on to the court at the MGM Grand Arena on Saturday night focused and with every intention of winning their first-ever Pac-12 Championship tournament. But they were outplayed, outcoached and, simply put, they were the worse of the two teams on the hardwood Saturday night.
But in the postgame press conference, there were no tears. Those representing Utah on the stand — Krystkowiak, Brandon Taylor and Jakob Poeltl — understand that there are bigger things on the horizon. Sure, they were upset — who wouldn’t be after a 30-plus point beatdown like that? But with the Big Dance looming, how can they sit there and sulk when they know they need to move on?
Up until Saturday night’s game, the Utes were riding high, winners of nine straight heading into the Championship Game. And unless you’re the Philadelphia 76ers (yes, I’m an avid Sixers fan — it’s a rough life), I’m not one to argue that losses are positive. However, I think this big loss for Utah was just that.
While the Pac-12 Tournament is, in a sense, a do-or-die situation, there are still games left to be played, and Utah knows it. It’s true that Krystkowiak puts a ton of emphasis on the conference tournament, and for that reason, I can see why Utah fans would be disappointed in the Utes’ effort on Saturday. But the only reason he is so adamant about doing well in Vegas is because it’s an automatic bid into the one that actually matters — the NCAA Tournament.
Utah is in no danger of not making the tournament, and while they didn’t get the automatic in, it’s clear that Krystkowiak and company have their eyes set on bigger and brighter things.
This loss is going to sting, no doubt. You could see the defeat in the eyes of the players, and they were clearly not happy about being blown off the gym floor in Vegas. But much like last season, if the Utes can return to the Sweet Sixteen, or get even farther, no one will be talking about their 31-point loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game.
They say you’re only as good as your last game, but for the Utes, that’s not the case. They know that they are a much better team than they showed on Saturday night, and they will prove it in the NCAA Tournament.