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Brad Rock: Both Butler and the Utes beat the Utes

SALT LAKE CITY — For most of Monday’s game, 2011 didn’t seem that long ago. But at least for the Utah basketball team, the punishment this time came from a major program.

Butler’s 68-59 win at the Huntsman Center reminded them exactly how far they are from being settled, yet how far they’ve come. The Bulldogs not only beat the Utes in the box score, they also held off what would have been Larry Krystkowiak’s 100th win as Utah’s coach.

Not that the Utes didn’t contribute to their own downfall, particularly in the form of 18 turnovers, resulting in 23 points. They also chipped in dreadful shooting (3 for 20 from 3-point range) and all-around sloppiness.

“It was a little bit like a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Krystkowiak said.

The best they can take from the loss is that it came at the hands of a program that went to the NCAA championship game on consecutive years.

“I thought, first off, it was kind of a popular question throughout the day with the media, ‘What are we going to need to do in order to win the game?’ ” Krystkowiak said. “’The Utes will win if.’ I felt like this is a quality team coming in. We knew Butler wasn’t going to beat themselves.”

The game was quietly billed as a milestone for Krystkowiak, if he won. That’s no easy accomplishment, considering 43 of his 74 losses came in his first two seasons. The last two years he won a combined 53 games.

These things happen when you recruit future NBA players Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl.

But there were trials — plenty of them. For instance, the trial named UNC-Asheville. And the trials named Montana State, Sacramento State and Cal Northridge.

Monday must have seemed like a flashback to the good old bad days. Utah faced a 7-0 deficit to start, missing nine of its first 10 shots. Gradually, though, the Utes crept back, taking the lead with 5:47 left in the half.

If it appeared the Utes had come out too casually, who could blame them? During non-conference play the coaching staff has taken to wearing matching polo shirts. Hooray for no-suits Monday.

But the entire team got caught with its pants down.

After the brief lead, the Utes went from one point ahead to a 10-point deficit. That was largely due to 10 first-half turnovers and blind-eye shooting. Utah fell behind by 13 in the early second half, via phantom offense and more turnovers. With eight minutes left, and the Utes down by 14, the already-thin crowd (thank you, Old Man Winter) grew thinner still.

The outcome was never in doubt.

After Butler made the national championship game two consecutive years (2010, 2011), it was time to retire the team’s traditional “feisty” label. Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack had gone on to make up one-sixth of the Jazz roster and 100 percent of the Butler alumni in the NBA.

Now the Bulldogs play in the Big East, which still has a major basketball presence, i.e. Creighton, Marquette, Georgetown, Xavier, Villanova, St. John’s, etc.

Since 2000, the Bulldogs have been to the NCAA tourney 11 times.

Butler doesn’t genuflect to anyone.

Of the Bulldogs’ seven wins, four have been against Power 5 schools: Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Arizona and Utah. So naturally the Bulldogs showed up on Monday, good to go, despite being picked sixth in their conference.

Wow, tough audience.

Meanwhile, the Utes are tabbed to finish eighth in the Pac-12. Only junior Kyle Kuzma and senior Lorenzo Bonam started last year, and they were the only two that played well Monday.

“I think we probably don’t take a lot of stock in these preseason things,” said Kuzma at the Pac-12 media day. “They don’t hand out trophies for that type of stuff right now.”

With that in mind, the game realistically was a low-risk proposition for the Utes. Losing to any Big East team is no shame. After a schedule that included Northwest Nazarene, Concordia, Coppin State and UC-Riverside, this was a refreshing change.

“I told the team I don’t have a problem with getting beat, that’s not what this is about,” Krystkowiak said. “But I don’t like a team that beats itself.”

On the other hand, it’s an option the Utes never had back when he started.

Email: rock@desnews.com; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged