Miller: Utah basketball – the smiling killers

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UTAH vs Colorado 34

With just over five minutes remaining, Utah forward Kyle Kuzma nailed a three from the top of the arc that sent the Utah bench into celebration. The shot didn’t tie the game and it didn’t give the Utes the lead. All the shot did was extend a Utah rout from 26 points to 29 points.

The game was all but finished when Kuzma checked in and made his first bucket of the contest, but yet the Utah bench was still energetic and still locked in to what was happening on the court. The score didn’t matter to them, the people on the hardwood did.

If there has been a constant at the Huntsman Center this season, besides every game being a Utah runaway, it’s that the athletes on this Utah squad consistently show they like each other.

You see it how the team reacts to a sequence of Delon Wright fastbreak magic, you see it every time a corner three is hit, and you saw it when the entire bench rose in celebration when walk-on Austin Eastman hit a shot late in the Utes rout of USC last Friday.

It’s a whole hell of a lot more fun to play when you like each other. And it’s clear that Utah is having a damn good time running up and down the court this season.

Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak has said when he looks down his bench, there are no distractions. There are no players causing locker room distractions or aching for the limelight. Every player has bought in to a team-first philosophy and it has shown, and shown brightly since the start of conference play.

The Utes haven’t just blown teams out – they‘ve completely crushed opponent’s will to keep on playing. After beating Colorado by 25, Utah has now won its three Pac-12 games by an average of 27 points. Its developed a killer instinct and doesn’t allow teams to even begin to dream of making a comeback.

Remember how Wichita State stormed back in the closing minute to send an eventual Utah victory to overtime? It seems like the Utes are determined never to let that happen again.

When Utah has gotten double-digit leads, the Utes pounce. They use a suffocating defense to get stops that lead to fast break after fast break. And as the leads have gotten bigger, the celebrations from the bench have gotten louder. The team feeds off one another and it is no clearer than when the lead gets over 20.

This team has gotten good at delivering the death nail.

With the Utah lead soaring past 20 against the Buffaloes, Utah guard Brandon Taylor received the ball on a fast break with two Colorado players closing fast. Taylor had a couple options – he could attempt a lay-up, that he could probably have made, or he could bounce a pass backwards to streaking Delon Wright for an easy deuce. Taylor elected a third, much more awesome, option – throw an alley-oop.

Taylor lobbed the ball up over the rim for Wright, who caught it with one hand, but couldn’t quite finish the dunk, slamming the ball off the rim. Yeah, it didn’t quite work, but it was a play that would have taken what ever was left of Colorado’s spirit.

Taylor went for the kill.

The Utes sent their third straight conference foe away from Salt Lake licking its wounds and in search of its pride, and did it all in an array of smiles and high-fives.

This team doesn’t just want to win – they want to win big.

 

r.miller@chronicle.utah.edu

@millerjryan

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