Stanford-Utah Preview

BY foxsports • March 12, 2015

(AP) - Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak lit into his team as hard as he ever has during his four years after it lost its regular-season finale less than a week ago.

He'll probably feel a lot better if the No. 17 Utes can make a deep run in the Pac-12 tournament.

Utah will try to appease Krystkowiak with a bounce-back performance Thursday night against sixth-seeded Stanford.

Krystkowiak wasn't happy after the Utes lost 77-68 to Washington in the regular-season finale Saturday. They were ranked as high as No. 8 at one point of the season, but lost three of the final five games to fall nine spots and limp into the conference tournament.

Utah (23-7) was playing No. 5 Arizona for a share of the conference lead a week and a half ago before falling to the third seed in the tournament behind Oregon.

Krystkowiak insists the problems are simple to solve, but no team wants to play its worst basketball heading into the postseason.

"However you want to diagnose it and try to explain it's pretty much irrelevant," Krystkowiak said. "Everybody's got a story this time of year.

"We've had a number of breakdowns. I'm not into excuses. I don't care who we've played. The reality is if we want to keep playing and ... accomplish some pretty cool goals we've set for ourselves, the excuses are right out the window. It's going to take a little bit more toughness physically. It's going to take some more toughness mentally."

The Utes are still in the midst of their best season under Krystkowiak. They had a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament for the first time. The team is led by first-team all-conference guard Delon Wright, but its success has come from an all-hands-on-deck approach and ferocious defense.

That defense wasn't so frightening in the last five games. Krystkowiak said they didn't defend one-on-one. Utah also lost the turnover battle in four of those five games for a combined 47-36 disadvantage.

Players said the difference from the 21-4 start is as simple as focus and energy.

"I think we got a little bit too comfortable with our situation," freshman center Jakob Poeltl.

The wins piled up fairly easy for the Utes - including 75-59 against Stanford on Feb. 12 - and that may have been the problem. They still haven't allowed a team to score more than 72 points. Only three wins were by single digits and most were complete blowouts.

"We didn't care what anyone thought of us at the beginning of the season," guard Brandon Taylor said. "We still had things to prove at the beginning of the season. ... Now, I feel like we've kind of been on cruise control a little bit. We haven't been playing as hard as we needed to and as hard as we should.

Krystkowiak is positive the team doesn't need any major scheme reconstruction.

''It should be easy to hit the switch,'' Krystkowiak said. ''We've done it before. It can be done. Hopefully there's some games left and that's what we'll be defined on, how we finish.''

The Cardinal (19-12) would surely agree after Chasson Randle hit a 3 with 2.4 seconds left to complete their rally from five down with just over three minutes to play in a 71-69 opening-round win over the Huskies on Wednesday.

Despite coming through in the clutch, Randle is looking for some improvement after going 3 for 11 from the floor - 2 for 7 from long range - while finishing with 10 points against Washington.

The senior guard, though, missed nine of 11 shots and had 10 points against Utah last month after scoring 22 in each of the previous two matchups.

Stefan Nastic matched his season low with seven points against the Utes, but the center is averaging 16.8 in the past four games after leading the team with 21 Wednesday.

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