SALT LAKE CITY — After two weeks of conference play, every team in the Pac-12 already has a loss. It’s created quite a logjam in the standings.
At 2-2, the Utah Utes are stuck near the middle with Colorado and USC. They trail UCLA (3-1) and a group of teams — Arizona, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington — who are 2-1.
Behind them, there’s a trio of 1-2 squads (Arizona State, California and Oregon) and winless Washington State (0-3).
“It’s really balanced. Anyone can win it,” said Utah guard Justin Bibbins. “Everyone’s a great team. So you’ve got to respect everybody.”
The Utes can attest that it’s a competitive situation. They opened Pac-12 play with wins at Oregon (66-56) and Oregon State (66-64). Then came losses at home to No. 14 Arizona (94-82) and No. 4 Arizona State (80-77).
“It’s a topsy-turvy deal,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who added that he was really proud of what took place on the road and disappointed about the past week.
Even so, Krystkowiak is sticking to his analogy that conference play is like a marathon with each of the games equating to 1.5 miles. Thus, at this point, only six have been completed.
“It’s not to time, you know, to bonk and not finish the race,” Krystkowiak said.
The Utes were involved in quite a battle with Arizona State. There were 18 lead changes and 11 ties in Sunday’s game.
As was the case in the loss to Arizona, it didn’t end well. However, Utah wasn’t outscored 17-5 down the stretch this time around. This was much more heartbreaking. A late 3-pointer by Bibbins was in-and-out in the closing seconds.
Krystkowiak, though, noted that the outcomes of both setbacks were really decided a lot earlier.
“Hopefully we are learning some of those lessons so that we’ll be able to be more efficient, proficient down the stretches of these games,” he said.
Utah trailed Arizona 31-14 in the first half Thursday. The Utes also got off to a sluggish start in the Arizona State game. They fell behind 10-2. The Sun Devils then opened the second half with a 10-3 run.
Krystkowiak credited Arizona State for taking it to them early. Turnovers, he explained, led to the second outburst.
“The flip side is we did respond,” Krystkowiak said.
The comebacks came up short, though — putting the Utes on a two-game skid entering this week’s trip to Los Angeles. They visit UCLA Thursday and USC on Saturday.
“That’s something we need to work on as a team,” Bibbins said. “The first four minutes are important. If we come out stronger in the first four minutes in both the Arizona and Arizona State game we’ll have a different story right now:”
The Utes, Bibbins continued, will get in the lab and keep working. He said they’ll just regroup.
“It’s going to feel nice to get in the gym and practice and sharpen some stuff,” Bibbins noted.