Krystkowiak's vision is to follow Arizona's path
LAS VEGAS — After losing by 32 points to Arizona in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak is optimistic.
He’s hopeful that in a couple years his Utes will be the ones blowing out schools in the Pac-12 tournament.
“That’s a team that’s reached the pinnacle of college basketball and got some great players on it,” Krystkowiak said. “That’s where we want to be.”
Utah’s 20-10 regular season record was one of its most successful seasons in recent memory.
Utah Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak watches the Utes during the second half of the Pac-12 Tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Utah lost to Arizona, 39-71.
It is the Utes’ third 20 plus winning season since the late head coach Rick Majerus left the program in 2004 because of health reasons.
Majerus had 12, 20-win seasons in 15 years as Utah’s head coach.
Since Majerus’ absence the Utes have only had three winning seasons, including this past season.
From Ray Giacoletti to Jim Boylen neither head coach could trend the Utah basketball team in a winning direction.
Now in his third season as the head coach in Salt Lake City Krystkowiak has a team that’s improved each year.
“That’s very nice of Larry [Krystkowiak] to say,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said of the Utah’s coach praise. “He deserves credit in his own right, what he’s done at Utah. I think back a few years ago when we played Utah, and looking at the team they put on the court today, winning 20 games, they’re very difficult to defend.”
In his first season as head coach at Utah in 2011-12–Utah’s first season in the Pac-12–Krystkowiak won just six games. The lowest total since Majerus retired. The Utes went 3-15 in Pac-12 play and were an easy win every time they played Arizona.
In his second season the Utes more than doubled their previous win total and fell just three games shy of finishing with a .500 winning percentage.
It was a strong enough season to bring in talented recruits, such as junior college transfer Delon Wright who, through 32 games, is averaging 15.7 points per game and was named to the Pac-12 First-Team all conference list.
Now in his third season Krystkowiak has a 20-win program that isn’t satisfied with being punched in the mouth by a team that’s one of the best in the country.
“We’re going to have to learn from it,” Utah center Dalin Bachynski said. “But forget the feeling that we have in our gut.”
Since Krystkowiak took over in Utah his game plan to reach the summit has been similar to that of Miller’s. A team that is built with athletes and plays sound defense has the best chance to win.
“I can’t say I was really optimistic that a whole lot was going to work,” Krystkowiak said in reference to his game plan against Arizona. “[Arizona is] a good example of what really being committed to defense does for you when you have an ultra-talented group offensively.”
Krystkowiak’s recruitment of players from rival recruiting areas like Los Angeles native and City College of San Francisco transfer Wright shows that’s he can bring in athletes to compete with the Wildcats of college basketball.
With time Utah’s roster could be filled with basketball players with Wright’s athleticism. Whether or not Krystkowiak can build a program built on defense is the next test.
But Thursday’s 71-39 loss to the Wildcats was a chance for current Utah players and fans to see how and where its third year coach hopes to take the program.
“We lost the game and we got pounded,” Krystkowiak said. “I shared [this] with the team, it’s a little bit of a vision of where we need to be. … We’ve got to be a lot better and more physical and so forth.”
— Follow Luke Della @LukeDella