Gach, the former Ute who left before Larry Krystkowiak’s last season, has been a welcome re-addition to new coach Craig Smith’s squad this year.
The Utes, 6-2 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-12 after holding off improved Cal 66-58 on Sunday afternoon, would probably be in a world of hurt without the senior from Austin, Minnesota, as injuries have threatened to derail a solid 5-0 start.
Since becoming eligible after the opener — a blowout of Abilene Christian — Gach has scored in double figures in five of his seven games. He tied a career-high with 28 points in the 93-73 loss to No. 18 USC and then followed that with 19 points on 7 of 10 shooting in the win over the Bears.
“Both is playing well at the offensive end,” Smith said Sunday. “That was his most complete game as a Ute, this go-round. I can’t speak from the past.”
A few eyebrows were raised when Smith announced in early June that Gach was returning, because he didn’t leave the program on the best of terms in 2020. But everybody on the hill always knew he could play.
He averaged 7.7 points as a freshman in 2018-19 and 10.7 as a sophomore in 2019-20. At Minnesota last year, he averaged just 6.8 points, causing some to wonder if he’d rediscover his touch back in the Beehive State.
“Both (Gach) is playing well at the offensive end. That was his most complete game as a Ute, this go-round. I can’t speak from the past.” — Utah basketball coach Craig Smith
Gach came off the bench in his first five games, then moved into a starting role after guard Marco Anthony suffered an ankle injury against Tulsa.
“It doesn’t matter, man,” he said Sunday when asked if he likes starting or coming off the bench better. “I am just trying to hoop. Whatever I have to do to get on the court and hoop, that’s what I am going to do.”
Smith said he’s not sure yet whether Gach will return to his sixth-man role when Anthony returns. The Utes have been referring to David Jenkins Jr. as “The Microwave” because he can heat up in a hurry, but so far Gach has lived up to that nickname as much, if not more, than the UNLV transfer.
“Both can be electric, certainly, on the offensive end, but we need consistency out of him,” Smith said “Obviously, we have been able to kinda figure some things out with him and what he does really well and kinda get him in those positions to be in attack mode and be a playmaking guard that we think he is.”
Smith said Gach’s “great versatility” has earned him minutes as well.
Against Cal, “I thought he played with great pace all night, getting into the paint, getting downhill, and making the right play, whether it is getting to the rim, hitting a pull-up, or kicking it out,” Smith said. “He was a big-time facilitator, especially in that second half.
“Loved his pace,” Smith continued. “He keeps getting better on the defensive end of the floor, and I thought he was really good tonight that way.”