SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Utes are the hottest basketball team in the Pac-12 Conference, having won seven of their last nine to move into fourth place in the league standings at 9-6.
With three home games left, including a pair this weekend against the two teams directly ahead of them in the standings at 10-5, UCLA and USC, the Utes have a chance to move up even further in the standings to perhaps as high as second place.
Still, U. coach Larry Krystkowiak isn’t budging from his one-game-at-a-time stance as he looks ahead to March.
“I’m just going to bore you to death,” he said in response to a question about the last two weeks of the regular season.
“It gets a little more clear the closer you get to finishing your 18th game in conference — there’s less variables,” he said. “What I do know is that we’ve put ourselves in position to control our own destiny. If we take care of business we’ll be in the top four. It’s not like we’re depending on a bunch of other things happening. That’s become clear. But beyond that, it’s the same old boring answer I had last week and two weeks ago.”
With wins over UCLA Thursday and USC Saturday afternoon, the Utes would come out of the weekend no worse than a tie for second place at 11-5 and they could be alone, depending on how the Bruins and Trojans fare at Colorado.
Then the following weekend one of the two L.A. schools would have to lose as they play each other at USC’s Galen Center. With a win over Colorado at home, the Utes would finish no worse than a tie for second place.
As for catching Arizona, that will be tough as the Wildcats, who are 11-5, have games left against two of the league’s worst teams — Oregon State this week and Cal next week as well as Oregon and Stanford.
RED-HOT COLLETTE: Ute senior center David Collette has been on an amazing tear of late, having made 26 of his last 31 field goal attempts (83.9 percent) during Utah’s four-game winning streak. Because of a slow start, he’s only at 63.9 percent in league games, which is still second in the conference. In all games, he’s fourth in field goal percentage at 61.8 percent.
When asked about his torrid pace of late, the former Murray High product deflected the credit.
“They go in a lot easier when you dunk them,” he said. “It’s a credit to the guards, They’re penetrating and drawing the (defense) and I just have the easier part of finishing the basket off.”
HAY'S IN THE BARN: Every year, Krystkowiak starts the season by putting numbers in each of the top corners of a board in the team room. The number on the left is the number of days until the final day of the Pac-12 tournament and the number on the right is the number of team victories.
It’s taken until this week for the number on the right to overtake the number on the left, which started at around 130 back in October. The Utes have 17 victories on the season, and the day of the UCLA game they’ll have just 16 days left.
“It’s all coming to a close,” said the Ute coach. “We’re just a few days away from some March Madness. So it’s time to get some hay in the barn.”
UTE NOTES: Game times this week are 7 p.m. Thursday and 12:30 p.m. Saturday. … The regular season concludes the following Saturday with a 5 p.m. game against Colorado. … Guard Justin Bibbins is probably Utah’s best bet for all-Pac-12 honors as he ranks first in league games in 3-pointers made, second in free-throw percentage, third in assist-to-turnover ratio, sixth in 3-point percentage and sixth in assists. … Utah leads the league in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.