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Utah basketball: Runnin' Utes ready for next chapter of season

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak says the college basketball season is divided into four chapters. It begins with the first three or four weeks of practice. Then comes the preseason schedule.

After Saturday’s 124-51 win over St. Katherine, the Utes finished the second section with an 11-1 record.

Now comes the third chapter: Pac-12 play. Utah tips things off with home games against No. 12 Oregon on Thursday and Oregon State on Saturday.

Krystkowiak said the conference contests are going to be quite a challenge for everybody.

“There’s really no games on the schedule that you can take lightly,” he explained. “And we’ll see what we’re made of.”

Following the 18-game league slate, there’s the fourth chapter in Krystkowiak’s table of contents — what happens at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas and what the Utes hope is postseason play beyond that.

When asked if the Utes are perhaps a year ahead of schedule in achieving the latter, junior Delon Wright and sophomore Jordan Loveridge expressed confidence that the time may be right.

“I think that we’re kind of ahead,” Wright said. “We’re not worried about next year. We’re trying to get there this year. I don’t see why we can’t.”

Loveridge had similar thoughts. Utah is off to its best start since going 18-0 in 1997-98. The Utes, though, haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2009.

“I feel like the fans, the whole city, just everyone that supports us is tired of waiting. So I feel like why not do it this year?” Loveridge said. “We already had a hot start, regardless of who we’ve played. But we know what kind of players we have. We know that we’re going to be able to match up with any team we play. So I feel like why not.”

IMPRESSIVE RETURN: Freshman guard Ahmad Fields made quite a splash in Utah’s return from Christmas break. Fields, who averaged 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds over eight appearances before Saturday’s game against St. Katherine, recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the win over the Firebirds — doing so in 16 minutes of action.

“I thought Ahmad came back after Christmas really focused and tried to prove to us as coaches that he deserves some time and he’s getting better,” said Krystkowiak, who added that confidence may be the only thing keeping Fields from being a key ingredient on the team.

MARKO IN THE MIX: Junior college transfer Marko Kovacevic, who had been sidelined for several weeks with a wrist injury, made his debut with the Utes Saturday — scoring eight points and pulling down six rebounds in eight minutes.

Krystkowiak said it was nice to get the 6-foot-11, 217-pound center from Belgrade, Serbia in the mix. He added that Kovacevic brings a level of toughness to the team.

Kovacevic will likely be in a rotation with Dallin Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen at the five spot with senior Renan Lenz expected to see more time at his more natural position as a four.

There was talk that the Utes might redshirt Kovacevic, however, that changed after a discussion.

The only gray area came from Kovacevic, who said he didn’t really want to waste a year of eligibility if he wasn’t going to be called upon after missing the first 11 games.

“It’s like a lot of our guys. You can’t make any guarantees. You’ve got to earn it and I’m convinced that he can earn it,” Krystkowiak said.

The coach added that Kovacevic is a good teammate who wants to set screens and do all the little things.

“I think going into this conference schedule we’re going to need to have a little bit more of a force inside,” Krystkowiak said. “And I see him playing a key role in that.”


Twitter: @DirkFacer