After playing well and exorcising its road demons in Thursday’s wire-to-wire win over Washington State, Utah’s men’s basketball team had a little bit of trouble getting out of town.
Because of fog in the Pullman area, the Utes had to bus over to Lewiston, Idaho, before flying to Seattle.
“But we got in here about 1 a.m. the night of the game,” coach Larry Krystkowiak said Saturday afternoon via a Zoom call with reporters. “It was nice to wake up in the hotel and have a couple of days in downtown (Seattle).”
The question as Utah continues its Pacific Northwest road swing: Will their up-and-down season roll forward or take another detour like it did the last time the Utes put together a solid 40-minute performance?
Utah (6-6, 3-5 Pac-12) meets Washington (2-11, 1-7) at 2 p.m. MST Sunday in Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle hoping to string together back-to-back conference wins for the first time this season.
“Getting a road win in the first of two games is always pretty medicinal and it allows you to enjoy the next couple of days,” Krystkowiak said.
The Utes should be at full strength, although sophomore forward Mikael Jantunen will have a different look. Jantunen was taken to a Pullman hospital after the WSU game because the basketball hit the protective mask he was wearing for a fractured nose and the mask scratched the cornea in his eye.
“He turned his mask in from his broken nose and got himself a set of ‘Kurt Rambis’ goggles,” Krystkowiak said. “Just one thing to the next. But I anticipate he will be ready to play tomorrow.”
Sophomore center Branden Carlson, who is back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench all four games of Utah’s recent homestand, said the confidence gained in the 71-56 win over WSU should help the Utes not just Sunday, but next Saturday when they play at Colorado.
“A win is a win. We are happy that we finally got one out on the road, and not just at home,” Carlson said after posting his first double-double — 14 points and 10 rebounds — of the season. “We kinda got out of that drought. We just need to keep up this pace and this energy and what we are feeling right now and take it into the next game against Washington on Sunday, and so on.”
A few days ago, Washington didn’t look like a daunting opponent for the Utes. But the Huskies broke their eight-game losing streak Wednesday night, and got their first league win, by upsetting visiting Colorado 84-80 behind a career-high 27 points from Marcus Tsohonis.
“They have improved vastly. … They are finding a little rhythm, and they certainly, they are clipping right along offensively,” Krystkowiak said. “They’ve got some really good players, and they are putting those players in positions to be successful and putting some heat on people.”
Before beating Colorado, Washington almost upset UCLA.
“I think they are a completely different team than two or three weeks ago,” Krystkowiak said.
The 6-foot-3 Tsohonis played just six minutes and didn’t score when Utah ripped UW 76-62 in its season- and Pac-12-opener at the Huntsman Center on Dec. 3.
In that game, Utah’s Alfonso Plummer scored 21 points and Timmy Allen and Jantunen added 14 each. The Utes went to the free-throw line 21 times, while UW got there just nine times.
Quade Green led UW with 21, and is the Huskies leading scorer with a 15.1 average.
Carlson, a 7-footer, leads the Utes in blocked shots and is third in the Pac-12 in that category with 1.8 per game. Having been replaced by captain Riley Battin in the starting lineup after Utah’s 64-46 loss at USC, Carlson regained the starting role because Krystkowiak wanted more size to deal with WSU’s size.
Due to Carlson’s early success — he nailed his first two jumpers — it is probable he will keep his starting spot against the Huskies.
“We are not making a big thing of our starters,” Krystkowiak said. “This is always going to be more about us overall and our team. It was an adjustment, too. Branden Carlson wasn’t playing great a few weeks back and we took him out of the starting lineup and he responded, I thought well, with coming off the bench.
“Guys might have to wear some different hats. I think the most important thing is when they are in the game, to make sure the pedal is to the metal and everyone is dialed in,” the coach continued. “It is not a demotion or a promotion either way. It is just sometimes a gut feel.”
Utah (6-6, 3-5) at Washington (2-11, 1-7)
Sunday, 2 p.m. MST
Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Seattle, Washington
Radio: 700 AM