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Utah basketball: Larry Krystkowiak says unselfish play is key to Utes’ success

Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak calls out to Utah Utes guard Delon Wright (55) as Utah and Washington play Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. Utah won 77-56.
Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak calls out to Utah Utes guard Delon Wright (55) as Utah and Washington play Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. Utah won 77-56.
Scott G Winterton,

SALT LAKE CITY — It has been a rejuvenating season for the Runnin’ Utes.

Utah stands just outside the top 10 in the AP polls at No. 11, and it enters this week as a Pac-12 conference co-leader. The Utes also stand just two games away from back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in a little more than a decade.

So what has been the key to success this season? Head coach Larry Krystkowiak narrowed that down to just one word on Monday.

Selflessness.

“Often times we’ll pass up a good shot and get a great shot,” Krystkowiak said. “Everybody’s buying into it. For the most part, it’s pretty darn fun to be a part of. It’s the opposite of unselfishness, it’s selflessness that we talk about in our program, and being a part of the team, and very rarely do we take bad shots.”

The Utes are currently fifth in the nation in shooting percentage and 35th in assists per game, averaging 15.2. Of the 34 teams with more assists per game, only Gonzaga has a higher shooting percentage than the Utes this season, while Duke has the same shooting percentage.

Utah is also sixth in the country in 3-point percentage, averaging 41 percent from beyond the arc. The Utes average around eight 3-point field goals per game.

Krystkowiak said that his staff evaluates the shots his players take in each game on a one through five scale (five the best), and that the majority of the time he rates his players’ shots in the four range.

“It’s something that’s a little bit contagious. It’s not something we just hand out at the beginning of the year — that hey this is the way we want to play,” Krystkowiak said. “But it’s talked about certainly weekly, built in our program. When it happens in practice when some bad shots get taken, guys are reminded.”

But that’s not just where the unselfishness has helped the team. The Utes are ninth in the country in scoring defense, allowing opponents an average of 56 points per game. Despite playing top-notch programs such as Wichita State, Kansas and Arizona, Utah has only allowed 70 points or more once this season — 72 points in its season-opener against Ball State.

Combine the two sides of the ball and Utah has the third best scoring margin in the country.

Good defenses are built on unselfish play, and though more practice time is spent on the defensive side, Krystkowiak said that has also helped the offense become more selfless.

“I believe in karma and trying to play the game the right way and I do believe our defensive mentality is trickling into the offensive end and helping us to play the right way.”