Utes Enjoying Underdog Role In Hot Start To Conference Play

Jan 29, 2019, 1:43 PM | Updated: 3:49 pm

Utah Utes guard Beau Rydalch (25) celebrates with Utah Utes guard Sedrick Barefield (2) after a dun...

Utah Utes guard Beau Rydalch (25) celebrates with Utah Utes guard Sedrick Barefield (2) after a dunk and foul as Utah and Colorado play in the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. Utah won 78-69. (Scott Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – After a so-so start to the season, the Utah Utes are coming around the first portion of the Pac-12 Conference schedule in second place.

Picked to finish eighth in the preseason rankings, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said that his team has thrived as an unexpected force in conference play with a 5-2 record against Pac-12 foes.

“We enjoy the underdog role. As I look, regardless of what our record is right now, you look forward and I think six of the next seven games, we’re not favored, according to the experts. I enjoy the fact that we’re up in the top half of the league, but there’s certainly no relaxing and you know, resting on our laurels and thinking that we’ve accomplished anything because this league has proven that anybody can beat anybody, anywhere,” said Krystkowiak in his weekly press conference.

It Starts With Defense

One key, according to Krystkowiak, has been a renewed emphasis on defense.

“It’s been validated that when we play some defense, the offensive end becomes easier,” said Krystkowiak.

After coming out of the preseason with a 6-7 record, Krystkowiak said his team fought through some growing pains to get where they are now.

Stanford Win Was Sweet

One of the sweetest rewards that the Utes have sowed this season was the program’s first win at Stanford since 1971.

“To win that Stanford game was big,” said Krystkowiak. “That was one of those ones where it was punch, counter-punch and it was ugly. We managed to make enough plays and free throws at the right time. I think that kind of validates, again, what’s important for our squad.”

Pac-12 Is Wide Open

Now in his eighth year at Utah’s helm, Krystkowiak doesn’t think he’s ever seen the Pac-12 so wide open for the taking.

“It gives you the opportunity to feel like with a good game plan and good energy to it that it’s not insurmountable like in some years it has been,” said Krystkowiak.

The Utes will go for their fifth straight conference win Thursday against Oregon at home. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. and be broadcast on FS1.

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Utes Enjoying Underdog Role In Hot Start To Conference Play