Basketball: Utes know what they need to do in Vegas

By Griffin Adams and Griffin Adams

poeltl asu

No. 17 Utah is not what you would call a hot team heading into the postseason.

Losers of three of their last five, including the biggest game of the season, when Arizona came to the Huntsman Center, the Runnin’ Utes have stumbled their way into the Pac-12 tournament that began yesterday, where Utah will have a first-round bye.

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Players on this Utah squad came into this week with a renewed purpose to practice and prep for the conference tournament.

They know they’ve lost three of five, they know they haven’t been playing well, and they know fans are disappointed in them. But luckily for those Utah fans, the Utes also know what they need to do in order to see success this weekend.

“Before practice, [the team] gathered around and put it all out there,” said guard Brandon Taylor. “At the end of the day, it’s not stuff that we wanna hear, but it’s stuff that’s gonna get us to the next level, it’s stuff that’s gonna get us to the position we want to be in.”

While Taylor has been through this experience before, that can’t be said for all of the Utes on this roster. For freshman center Jakob Poeltl, this has been a season full of firsts — his first college game, his first big-game environment and now, his first Pac-12 tournament.

“It’s very exciting,” Poeltl said. “I don’t know what to expect. It’s postseason, I’ve played postseason before, so I guess it’s gonna be a little bit like that, but it’s gonna be a lot of fun and a lot of pressure too. I’m looking forward to it.”

Poeltl, along with the rest of the bigs on the team, have struggled lately to win the rebounding battles against their opponents. While the Austrian did have a big first half against Washington, Poeltl registered just seven rebounds in the two games before that. Poeltl’s average for the season is 6.9 rebounds per game.

One reason Poeltl’s rebounding numbers are so low is because he keeps finding himself on the bench due to fouls. In the two games where Poeltl grabbed seven rebounds collectively, he only played 12 and 17 minutes.

“I’ve had a couple of fouls you’re just going to get during a game,” Poeltl said. “And then I had some fouls that you don’t wanna get because they are not smart plays, just a little bit too much.”

Poeltl is not alone, as other players on the team have had foul trouble and some have even fouled out of games completely. The Utes will need to patch things up on the boards if they want to make it to Saturday’s championship game.

But first up for the Runnin’ Utes will be tonight’s tilt against Stanford.

Taylor says the key to doing well in the postseason is forgetting about the regular season, saying “what can we do about it now?”

While the NCAA’s March Madness tournament doesn’t start for another week, Taylor is preparing himself for mayhem in Vegas this weekend.

“It’s madness, this is where it comes alive,” Taylor said. “It’s where players come alive, and it’s where the big plays come.”

Utah’s quarterfinal matchup begins at 9:30 p.m. MT.

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