In 2011, in Larry Krystkowiak’s first season as head coach, Utah went 6-25. Four years later, the Utes are in the Sweet 16.
It is the sixteenth Sweet 16 appearance in program history and the first since 2005 – and Utah took time to celebrate it.
“Well, I think the timing of our victory Saturday – (it was a) late-afternoon game over Georgetown, and our charter didn’t take off until the next morning – maybe got us a little opportunity to have some fun,” Krystkowiak said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Most of the families were there, and our players, I think, soaked the experience all up.”
After beating Stephen F. Austin, the Utes had 48 hours to prepare for Georgetown. When they tip off against Duke this Friday, they will have had six days.
“It seems like an eternity,” Krystkowiak said. “So we did allow guys to soak it up (after beating Georgetown). We’ve been enjoying it. But this week is pretty much all business and it’s a way to sort out a game plan against a fantastic Duke team. There’s a little bit of opportunity to giggle and have some fun, but for the most part, we’re trying to advance in this thing and figure out a way to do so.”
Utah, with its balanced attack, had five players score between 10 and 14 points in its 75-64 win over Georgetown. Guards Delon Wright and Brandon Taylor combined for 26 points and 10 assists.
“I think the experience that we just had in Portland was fantastic,” Krystkowiak said. “I don’t think a whole lot is to be talked about (heading into this weekend). It’s important to get in that environment and shoot in a large arena. The facility that we play in in Houston is a little atypical for college basketball, so there’s going to be a little more expanse – room behind the basket and that type of thing. But I really like our squad. I like their maturity level and I just think there’s certain things we don’t have to talk about.
“But we’re both faced with the same thing,” Krystkowiak continued. “There’s nerves and it’s a fight-for-your-life mentality, but it’s such an awesome event and great to be a part of.”
The Utes actually trailed Georgetown by double digits in the first half but eventually found their footing.
“We stayed pretty persistent with our game plan,” Krystkowiak said. “Georgetown hit a bunch of threes early against us, and I guess at the end of the day that’s what we were willing to live with. The Princeton offense – they get so many lay-ups on back cuts, so we kind of wanted to call off the dogs a little bit on pressuring. And we had our hands full with Josh Smith inside, who we did a nice job with. But more than anything, I think it was defensive intensity and sticking to it, and then we managed to hit some big shots going down the stretch. That was the big thing. We got stops and managed to hit some threes and extend our lead late in that ball game.”
Switching gears a bit, Krystkowiak, who played and coached in the NBA, was asked whether No. 1 Kentucky could actually challenge NBA teams. That’s been a pretty popular opinion in recent weeks, especially after Larry Brown said that the Wildcats could make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
“Well, I’ll tell you, it kind of depends,” Krystkowiak said. “I don’t think they’d have any problem if they had three nights rest and they were playing another team that maybe came off their fourth game in five nights, which is often the case with an NBA schedule. That’s the thing. You get to that level, it’s very much work and a lot of it’s the scheduling. If you give both teams ample time to prepare and rest, I’m not sure how many NBA teams they’re going to beat. But just like on any given night in March Madness, I think (in) an NBA season there’s a lot of opportunities to beat people. They’re incredibly talented.”