After sweeping the Washington schools this past weekend, the University of Utah men’s basketball team (12-7 overall, 4-4 Pac-12) will look to carry that momentum on the road. The Runnin’ Utes will face No. 21 Arizona State on Thursday, Jan. 25 and No. 11 Arizona on Saturday, Jan. 27.
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak is proud of the way his team battled against the Huskies and Cougars at home. The proactive approach Utah took en route to those victories was what Utah lacked in California as the team dropped games to UCLA and USC.
“I don’t think our MO is going to be waiting for other people to make mistakes and then trying to capitalize on them,” Krystkowiak said. “You’re not going to be successful in [this league] by waiting to capitalize on mistakes.”
Three weeks ago, the Wildcats and Sun Devils were in Salt Lake City where they defeated Utah. Krystkowiak said the last four minutes of the game against Arizona were tough to play because the Utes were worn out. Utah wasn’t entirely healthy and it was feeling the effects of that, but this time around, that’s not the case.
“We’ve got a couple more horses in our stable that we didn’t have before. We had some injuries and some guys were beat up,” Krystkowiak said. “Hopefully a couple more bigger bodies will help us in the rebounding category — add a little bit more of a physical presence.”
Against ASU, Utah had a chance to take a one-point lead with six seconds to play if Justin Bibbins’s three-pointer would have fallen, but it bounced in and out of the hoop. Since the heart-breaking loss, the Long Beach State transfer has put up back-to-back double-doubles, and he earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for his performances against Washington and Washington State.
With his time as a collegiate basketball player winding down, Bibbins is focused on trying to make the most out of the rest of the season.
“You just take in the moments each game,” Bibbins said. “One thing is just leaving it all out on the floor, every game. And just have fun. We know it’s our last moments, and we’re just competing and living with the result.”
Krystkowiak recently heard a saying, “Wherever your shoes are, be there,” and he said Bibbins is the epitome of that statement.
“He [has] got it. There’s certain things as a coach that you see players, and it’s that word that’s hard to describe,” Krystkowiak said. “You got moxie, you work as hard as anybody in the gym, you’re engaged all the time.”
While Bibbins has been a big part of the offense coming together and clicking, other Utes have also played a role in that. Sedrick Barefield and Gabe Bealer, who have taken on different roles with the team and are coming off the bench, had success during the Utes most recent home stand. Against Washington State, the two of them led the bench in double-digit scoring. Rather than throwing in the towel when things were tough, Barefield and Bealer persevered.
“It’s cool because they both responded in the proper way. They faced it with an open mind and a lot of enthusiasm, and they both played [against Washington State] as hard as I’ve seen them play all season,” Krystkowiak said. “And lo and behold, the so-called monkey’s off their back and they scored a few points. So that’s karma. It’s a little synopsis of what life is all about.”
Tipoff at Wells Fargo Arena is at 7:30 p.m.