What could have been?

That has been the prevailing sentiment when analyzing the University of Utah men’s basketball team’s season, marked to this point by impressive upsets and mind-boggling letdowns. The same team that beat Colorado, Arizona, Stanford and USC and led Oregon and Colorado by double digits at halftime has lost by 18 to Oregon State and blown a big lead to fall to last-place California.

But here’s another question, after the Utes, finally at full strength until point guard Rylan Jones sustained another gut-punch shoulder injury, put it all together Saturday night in a 71-61 upset of No. 19 USC at the Huntsman Center:

How far can these guys go?

Utah (10-11, 7-10 Pac-12) will be a big underdog next week when the Pac-12 Tournament begins at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (March 10) — somewhere in the 30-to-1 range — and will need to win four games to claim the title, having lost out already on the chance to grab one of the top five seeds. But if there is a team worth taking a flyer on in that gambling Mecca, it might be the Runnin’ Utes.

“I will say it again: We can beat anybody and we can lose to anybody, But we are happy with the win.” — Utah junior forward Timmy Allen after the 71-61 upset of No. 19 USC

“I will say it again: We can beat anybody and we can lose to anybody,” star junior forward Timmy Allen said after scoring 15 points and dishing out eight assists against the slumping Trojans. “But we are happy with the win.”

Nobody is more familiar with the Utes’ up-and-down nature than head coach Larry Krystkowiak, who has said all season his team is capable of big things if it can maintain its focus, avoid discouragement and stay healthy.

“Yeah, this is what we are hoping for,” Krystkowiak said after the Utes shot 58% from the field, including an eye-popping 78% from 3-point range, in the second half against the Trojans, while putting up 44 points.

Of note, USC (19-6, 13-5) was one of the top defensive teams in the country, entering the game first in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage defense and No. 9 nationally. 

“We need more hands on deck to be able to compete with some of the teams in this conference, and certainly add a little bit of depth, particularly when you move into Vegas,” Krystkowiak said. “If you are fortunate enough to win some games, you are going to need a lot of contributions.”

Depth hasn’t been Utah’s strong suit this season. Krystkowiak’s rotation only goes to seven or eight players. The Utes will need more from Jaxon Brenchley and Lahat Thioune, especially if they get to Friday or Saturday in Sin City.

Analysis: Enigmatic Runnin’ Utes ignore the critics, knock off No. 19 USC to again flash their potential
Runnin’ Utes insist they aren’t giving up, but questions surfacing after loss to UCLA with No. 19 USC up next

Getting Mikael Jantunen back is huge. The Utes won three in a row before Jantunen left to join the Finnish national team, then went 0-4 when he was not with them.

“He is a battler. You can see the level of toughness (he brings),” Krystkowiak said. “Part of the strength of USC’s team is (its) post play, and I thought he was really solid individually in that regard.

He is kind of a glue guy for our team, does a lot of the intangibles, and little things. And just having his minutes back on the court enhances our team, without a doubt.”

As for Jones’ status moving forward, Krystkowiak was not optimistic.

“We will say our prayers for Rylan, on the shoulder (injury),” he said. “It certainly didn’t look good. We can use getting him back in the mix.”

Now in ninth place in the Pac-12 standings, Utah meets the teams directly above them in the standings this week. The Utes host Oregon State (13-11, 9-9 Pac-12) on Wednesday at 5 p.m. MST on ESPNU and will host Arizona State (10-11, 7-8 Pac-12) on Saturday.

Oregon State (13-11, 9-9 Pac-12) defeated Stanford 73-62 on Saturday to complete a Bay Area sweep, having downed Cal 59-57 on Thursday. 

The Beavers could easily be on a four-game winning streak, but after knocking off Utah 74-56 on Feb. 18, they were edged 61-57 by Colorado on Feb. 20.

Allen, a serious candidate to make the All-Pac-12 team because he is in the top 10 in the league in scoring, rebounding and assists, said the Utes have a long way to go before they can say they’ve arrived. But the USC win was a good starting point.

“I mean, every game is different,” Allen said. “We are not going to shoot it as well every game, and we are not going to play as well every game. We are not going to be perfect. … So we just stick to the script and keep booking along and not worry about what you all say.”

Sunday morning, the league announced that the Utah-ASU game will tip off at noon MST and will air on Fox Sports 1. It will be the first meeting of the season between the Utes and Sun Devils, but could be repeated four days later at the conference tournament. 

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Utah and ASU could easily play in the 8 vs. 9 first-round game in Vegas, which is scheduled to tip off at 2 p.m. MST noon March 10.

Sunday’s Utah-Colorado women’s game canceled

Less than two hours before it was scheduled to host Colorado on Sunday afternoon, the Utah women’s basketball team announced the game had been canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Utes’ program.

Utah’s appearance in the Pac-12 Women’s Tournament, which begins Wednesday in Las Vegas, is suddenly in jeopardy.

“A decision regarding the Pac-12 Tournament has not been determined yet,” the program posted on its social media feeds. “We are in the preliminary contact tracing process and updates will be made available at a later time.”

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