Utah jumps one spot in AP Top 25

By Griffin Adams and Griffin Adams

Before the 2014-15 campaign started, there was a feeling around Salt Lake City that this year’s version of the Runnin’ Utes was going to be a good one. However, that list of believers grew a lot smaller when talk of reaching the top 10 was involved, but on Monday Utah cracked the top 10 for the second consecutive week, jumping up to No. 9 in the Associated Press Top-25.

“It feels good and we don’t talk about it,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We had a little breakdown and debrief of what we need to do moving forward. Winning is fun, it’s not as grinding as past years.”

It’s not as grinding, indeed.

Ever since Krystkowiak took over four seasons ago, the Utes have seen improvement with every passing year. This progression has brought Utah to where it is today, throwing its name into the ring of the nation’s elite – the Utes, however, know they have a long road ahead.

“Another time of year, near the end, that number would mean more but it’s an indication of moving forward,” Krystkowiak said.

Working on free throws

Nearly every big, out-of-conference game Utah has played in this season, has come down to the wire. While the Utes walked away victorious in some of those contests, Utah fans are left wondering what could have been if Utah had been able to convert on some of the missed free throws in its losses.

To counteract the problem, Krystkowiak has had his team chucking up free throws more than if Shaq was challenged to make five in a row from the line.

“We have probably shot as many free-throws this year as we have with any team I’ve been a part of,” Krystkowiak said.

The practice is paying off, as the Utes are coming off two strong performances from the charity stripe. Against USC, Utah missed 10 free throws, but Krystkowiak claims they were good shots that got the wrong bounce. And in the 32-point blowout over UCLA, the Utes made 16 of their 19 free-throw attempts for an 82 percent clip.

“At the Sunday shoot-around, I said forget the free-throws,” Krystkowiak said. “It was one of those deals where they don’t want to shoot prior to the game and then we went out and made a high percentage.”

Huntsman Center entertainment

As Utah kept improving each of the last four seasons, there was still something missing from the Ute program – an intimidating home-court advantage.

While the MUSS has done its part to maintain the days-of-old presence in the Huntsman this last decade, the Utah marketing team stepped up its game as well. The renovations done to the Huntsman Center during the off-season were in full effect on Sunday when Utah took on the Bruins, showing off a pre-game light show that featured videos and graphics projected onto the court.

Throw in the excitement and energy of the increasingly growing crowd at each home game and other teams are starting to fear playing in Salt Lake City.

“It’s fun to be a part of,” Krystkowiak said. “The impact they have, the crowd, other teams notice it. The passion of our fans is very intense. They come up and talk to us and tell us about how they think we’re doing. Right now, it’s an exciting time.”

 

[email protected]

@GriffDoug