DENVER — A record seven Pac-12 teams made it to this year’s NCAA tournament. However, by the time Utah practiced at the Pepsi Center Friday afternoon in preparation for its second-round game against Gonzaga, five conference foes had already been eliminated.
Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon State and USC suffered first-round setbacks since the tournament began on Thursday.
“It’s interesting because this was a rare year that we got a lot of respect nationally and got a number of teams in,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who acknowledged the conference hasn’t fared well, thus far, in the tourney.
“Let’s not overbake it. It’s all about matchups,” he continued. “Our league was really good. We showed that in the preseason with the games that we won.”
Krystkowiak added that if you play good games against teams from other leagues you get ranked higher. The Pac-12, he recalled, was ranked second in the nation.
“We were allowed to beat up on each other a little bit in the conference season and all those teams that lost, you know, (are) great teams — as we saw today with Michigan State,” Krystkowiak said. “Seeds and all that kind of stuff go out the window. It’s unfortunate that our league, maybe, hasn’t fared a little bit better.”
Senior guard Brandon Taylor had similar thoughts on the Pac-12’s early tournament showing.
“It’s a little bit bittersweet seeing some of the teams go down,” he said. “But that doesn’t take away that the Pac-12 had a great year this year. It was one of the toughest conferences to even get a win and stuff like that.”
NOT LOOKING AHEAD: Utah forward Kyle Kuzma dismissed any notion that the Utes might be looking down the road after No. 2 seed and potential Sweet 16 opponent Michigan State was eliminated by Middle Tennessee.
“No. We’ve got Gonzaga now,” Kuzma said. “That’s our only focus.”
The winner of the game between the Utes and Bulldogs will meet Middle Tennessee or Syracuse next week at the United Center in Chicago.
SOMEWHAT FAMILIAR: Utah’s Jakob Poeltl has seen some highlight tapes of Arvydas Sabonis, but has never really watched the Hall of Fame father of Gonzaga sophomore center Domantas Sabonis play.
“I don’t think that it really has anything to do with Domantas because, well, he’s going to go his own way — do his own thing,” Poeltl said. “He’s the player he is. He’s a very talented player. So that’s who I’m focusing on.”
EXTRA STUFF: Utah has turned the ball over 40 times over the past two games . . . Gonzaga won its eighth consecutive NCAA tournament opener with a 68-52 victory over Seton Hall Thursday . . . Utah and Gonzaga were both eliminated from last year’s tourney by eventual champion Duke at NRG Stadium in Houston. The Utes fell in the Sweet 16 and the Bulldogs were ousted in the Elite Eight.