LAS VEGAS -- The leading reason for the Utah Utes being a scary matchup for the Arizona Wildcats: they can match up with the Arizona Wildcats. More scary yet, coach Larry Krytkowiak likes the Utes to win paradoxically when the Utes aren't the favorites.
"I always liked the underdog role. I don't like being the favorite, I don't think our guys like being the favorite," Krystkowiak said.
Utah pushed past the Washington Huskies, 67-61, in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament Wednesday and will get a third crack at the Wildcats on Thursday in the opening Pac-12 Tournament game.
"It's the one team in the Pac-12 that we've not won a basketball game against, and we got a lot of booby prizes along the way, consolation prizes and 'atta-boys' and 'way to go,' " Krystkowiak said. "We're not the favorites. I like that element. Don't have nearly the nervous feeling I had maybe leading into this (Washington) game, and hopefully our guys are feeling the same thing."
Krsytkowiak's team dropped Washington in a way the Wildcats would have. The Utes rebounded well, took away Washington's transition game and limited the Huskies best player, C.J. Wilcox.
The scary part is that Utah's offense was either clicking behind a relentless attacking of guard Delon Wright (15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks and 11 free throw attempts) or making up for misses with offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Utah led 34-24 at half, and 13 points by that point came off offensive rebounds.
Funny thing is, the Utes learned that style of play from Arizona.
The Wildcats' first meeting of two wins over the Utes this season came thanks to 20 offensive boards for Sean Miller's team.
"Actually, a little bit of an eye-opening situation for us," Krystkowiak said of the game. "We spent a couple weeks working on rebounding. We got them to miss shots, but we just couldn't keep them -- it looked pretty good on paper. We held them to 33 percent, but they were 1-for-3 every time they went down the floor, and they ended up scoring on their second offensive rebound.
"That's just Russian roulette," he said. "That will kill you every time."
Working off Loveridge
Trust is a word that Utah can use proudly after breaking a 60-all tie thanks to a left corner three-pointer by guard Dakarai Tucker. A drive and kick by the Utes found forward Jordan Loveridge open on the left wing, but an extra pass against the Washington rotation swung the ball to an open Tucker.
The make with 40 seconds left gave Utah a 63-60 lead that wouldn't be lost.
"I just think about going to my fundamentals," Tucker said. "Put more arc on the ball and go back to my fundamentals."
Loveridge is a scary power forward because of his scoring. He has the ability to draw defenders out at the 4 spot, and against the Wildcats, that will keep Aaron Gordon out of the paint to contest dribble-drives coming from the perimeter. Expect the Utes to continue playing well off Loveridge
when Wright is bottled up if do-it-all guard Delon Wright is bottled up.
"We talked about it on the board before the game ... that was going to be the difference is somebody having the trust and faith in the teammate. Jordan could have shot that. It would have been considered a good shot, and he made a great pass to the corner for Dakarai. I thought it was really fitting and on cue for our team. Obviously, moving forward we'll need to do it collectively."
What will Nick see?
Krystkowiak admitted that he asked for the Utes to switch their bigs onto UW guard C.J. Wilcox, who went 4-for-15 from the floor. That led to a lot of contested jumpers, and Arizona guard Nick Johnson might see a similar attack to slow him down. Good thing for him, he has the tools to perhaps do more to counter switches.
"You leave that guy (Wilcox) open, I think he's probably our best shooter in the league, pure shooter, though we're facing another one tomorrow in Nick Johnson, which is a little spooky," Krystkowiak said.
Johnson should look to drive, but then again, the Wildcats' poor spacing elsewhere will make driving more difficult than what a well-spaced UW team could open up for Wilcox.
12 p.m. MST