SALT LAKE CITY — In their win over Washington State Sunday afternoon, the Runnin’ Utes refused to be beguiled by the scoreboard.
With a double-digit lead most of the game, the players and coaches said they tried to focus on individual plays rather than take comfort in a lopsided score.
“If you’re going to be a mature team, I don’t think the concepts are any different,” said Utah head coach Larry Krsytkowiak after Utah defeated Washington State 88-47. “You try to take care of the ball, and you try to make a defensive game plan. Sometimes you can get a little sloppy, maybe, and step away from your normal game plan. I thought we did that at the end of the first half with some turnovers, trying to hit a home run instead of continuing to grind the way we had — with some singles and advancing runners and keeping it kind of simple.”
Utah’s defensive effort, coupled with the fact that Washington State was coming off a draining double-overtime loss at Colorado, helped the Utes get off to an impressive start. Early in the second half, Utah forward Jacob Poeltl had nearly as many points (25) as Washington State had scored as a team (28). The blowout victory meant more time for guys who rarely get to play and that’s something that both coaches and players enjoyed.
“It’s nice to get some other guys in who don’t get to play because we’re going to need everyone down the stretch,” said senior forward Jordan Loveridge, who finished with 14 points and five rebounds, second only to Poeltl, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes. “Especially in tournaments, you need everyone.”
He said there are lessons to learn, regardless of the score.
“We’ll get a lot out of watching film because there were mistakes that we can fix and get better ourselves,” Loveridge said. “In a game like this, you’ve got to keep playing hard no matter what the score is.”
In addition to getting starters some rest and reserves some game time, Loveridge said it also allows players to experiment in ways they wouldn’t during a closer contest.
“You can try to do some things or practice some things that you don’t get to practice in a closer game.”
Several reserves played well, starting with Brekkott Chapman, who finished with 12 points and three rebounds. Austin Montgomery added six points and took an impressive charge while every reserve who got in the game managed to score at least two points for the Utes.
Loveridge said it isn’t difficult to remain focused in a double-digit win because their goal is to improve individually and as a team.
“We’re trying to play the best basketball at the end of the year that we can,” Loveridge said. “We don’t want to take any steps back. You can take steps back, even if you beat a team by a bunch of points. You want to try to play hard, and move toward playing the best basketball you can.”
Krystkowiak said these games can provide a barometer for a team, the same way any other contest can.
“That’s where you have to ask yourself if you’re solid enough,” Krystkowiak said. “Those things from a basketball standpoint come back to haunt you if you’re not able to be disciplined through the whole game, whether you’re up or you’re down. I think it’s all about the next point mentality, and that’s what we talked about a little bit tonight.”