As the University of Utah men’s basketball team continues to get healthier, head coach Larry Krystkowiak believes it will enhance the team’s depth. As of Tuesday though, he wasn’t as certain about what the lineup would be for the Runnin’ Utes come Thursday, Jan. 18 when they host Washington in the Huntsman Center. At the time, he didn’t have anyone penciled in.
“I don’t want our players to get caught up in rotation or anything,” Krystkowiak said. “Let’s improve up on the practice court, and coaches will do the best job they can at putting the five guys together for the 200 minutes that we get to play the game.”
Forward Donnie Tillman, who was working through a foot injury, got his first start of the season on Sunday against USC. He had the first bucket of the night, and he shot 4-of-9 from the field and 2-of-3 from downtown. Moving forward, Krystkowiak said him being in the starting five isn’t “etched in stone,” but he was pleased with the way Tillman started off the game against the Trojans.
Tillman feels like he is “getting better each day,” and he knows he has improvements to make after missing time. Moving the ball and understanding plays are two items he mentioned on his list of things he needs to work on.
“This is the first time I think since practice in the summer that we’ve had everyone healthy, from all 18 players,” Tillman said. “I think it’s a new start for us. Our best basketball is to come.”
While the Utes are riding a four-game losing streak and are winless in Pac-12 play at home, Thursday night is the ideal opportunity for them to get back on track. Most recently, the Runnin’ Utes dropped a pair of games against UCLA and USC.
Washington comes into the contest having won six of its past eight games, and its most recent loss came at the hands of Stanford as the Cardinal beat the Huskies by nine points this past Saturday. As a team, Washington leads the conference in blocked shots, averaging 5.70 per game and in steals, averaging 8.90 a game. Guard Matisse Thybulle ranks No. 1 in the league in steals with 3.1 per game.
Krystkowiak wants his team to develop a “next play mentality.” No matter how his team is performing on the offensive end, the defensive side shouldn’t be affected in a negative way. Instead, defending with similar enthusiasm to that as if shots are falling, is what he wants to see.
“We’ve got to find that level of consistency, not only within each of us, but collectively as a team I think is important,” Krystkowiak said. “That’s going to be a focal point for us this week in practice.”
Although this is the first time since the 2012-13 season that the Runnin’ Utes have lost four consecutive conference games, Krystkowiak isn’t panicking.
“It’s not time to head overboard at this point. We just have to get back to some simpler things and mindset,” Krystkowiak said. “And hopefully our home crowd will give us a little enthusiasm and we can start feeling a little bit better about the game.”
Tipoff is at 8 p.m.