Men’s Basketball: Team aims to slide into seed in March
The parity in the Pac-12 is such that many teams will be jockeying for a high seed in March’s conference tournament for the rest of the regular season. Additionally, every regular season loss becomes a hit on a team’s résumé for receiving a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
With just a 3-9 record in Pac-12 play, the Runnin’ Utes won’t make the Big Dance unless they win the conference tournament. They will likely enter that tournament as a low seed. Because of this, one role they will try to play in their final six regular season games is that of spoiler. This role already began Wednesday night, as Utah beat an on-the-bubble Arizona State team.
“We know where we sit in the Pac-12,” said Jason Washburn after the game. “That also makes us some bad news for people [trying] to get into the NCAA Tournament.”
Utah’s game on Sunday at the Huntsman Center against No. 9 Arizona will be another prime opportunity for the Utes to play spoiler. Arizona is all but a lock to make the tournament, but they’re in a battle to claim the top seed for the Pac-12 Tournament. Arizona is in a second-place tie with UCLA, one game behind Oregon and one game ahead of Arizona State.
“I think part of what we’re dealing with right now is that we have a very, very good conference,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller. “When you have that type of depth and key players and coaches and you have a lot of teams playing for March, there are going to be games that are decided by a few points, and there are going to be a lot of teams that can win.”
This was displayed on Jan. 5, as the Utes hung tough with Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., losing by just three when a Jarred DuBois’ 3-point attempt at the buzzer clanged off the rim, preventing the game from going into overtime.
Despite that historical context, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said he’s taking the approach that Sunday’s tilt is a completely different game and that his team has a knack for playing harder on the road than at home.
“I think it’s something you know in the back of your mind — you were there on their home court — but I think it’s a little bit risky to try to use that as encouragement,” Krystkowiak said. “We haven’t necessarily had that same kind of energy at home, and that’s troublesome.”
The Wildcats are solid from point guard to center. Floor general Mark Lyons leads them in points and assists, and Solomon Hill is one of the best forwards in the Pac-12. Their frontcourt is deep too, as freshmen Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett all see regular minutes.
While Utah enters the game with momentum after beating Arizona State on Wednesday, the Wildcats will come to Salt Lake City on a two-game losing streak. The Cal Golden Bears defeated them a week ago and the Colorado Buffaloes beat them last night. The game will tipoff at 1 p.m.