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Utah men's basketball: Utes aim for continued success on defense

Utah Utes forward Tyler Rawson (21) blocks a shot from Stanford Cardinal forward Reid Travis (22) at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.
Utah Utes forward Tyler Rawson (21) blocks a shot from Stanford Cardinal forward Reid Travis (22) at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.
Spenser Heaps,

SEATTLE — Utah credits much of its recent success to a focus on defense. Last week, the Utes topped Stanford and California by a combined score of 152-103. They forced 27 turnovers along the way.

It followed a disappointing performance at Colorado the previous weekend and precedes games at Washington on Thursday and Washington State on Saturday.

Junior guard Sedrick Barefield acknowledged that the players and coaches have been talking a lot about getting stops as of late, especially the guys on the court. Barefield said they’re making sure that the focus is on the defensive end. The offense, he continued, is kind of being dictated by the offense.

“It's been working out for us and we’ve known that all along,” Barefield said. “We’ve just let ourselves get away from it at times.”

Barefield noted the special importance of such focus — as a guard along with senior Justin Bibbins — because they are “the anchor of the defense.”

A sudden “buy in” to defense, though, isn’t how the Utes operate.

“It’s kind of a non-negotiable, you know, so it’s not really anything I’m worried about anybody buying,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. "Either we’re going to do it or you’re not going to play.”

Krystkowiak added that the Utes have been playing pretty hard and their defensive transition has improved. Same goes for how they rebound.

“Those are all facets of playing defense and just playing with some more enthusiasm and energy,” Krystkowiak said. “I think guys are seeing the correlation with hanging your hat on playing some defense — whether it’s man or zone — and trying to get some stops and rebounding and then taking it to the other end of the floor.”

It’s a tough game if teams are scoring easily on you, he explained, noting there’s a sample size to back up success and making stops.

“When we focus on that we’re pretty good,” Barefield said.

Now Utah takes its act on the road. The Utes face a Washington team that they defeated 70-62 on Jan. 18 in the Huntsman Center.

The Huskies are in their first season under longtime Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins. They’re led by freshman guard Jaylen Nowell (16.5 ppg) and junior forward Noah Dickerson (15.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg).

EXTRA STUFF: Utah has won the past five games against Washington to take a 14-9 lead in the series . . . The Utes are just 4-6 at Alaska Airlines Arena. However, they have won two straight in Seattle . . . Senior forward David Collette, who has made 15 of his last 16 shots from the field, is just 13 points away from reaching 1,000 in his career over tenures at Utah State and Utah . . . Washington has lost two straight games, falling at Oregon (65-40) and at Oregon State (97-94 in double overtime) . . . Stanford shot 35.8 percent from the field against the Utes. California wound up at 30.2 percent.

Utah (15-9, 7-6) at Washington (17-8, 7-5)

Alaska Airlines Arena, Seattle

Thursday, 7 p.m (MT)

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: ESPN 700AM


Twitter: @DirkFacer