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SALT LAKE CITY — The Runnin’ Utes wrapped-up non-conference play Tuesday beating NAIA’s Carroll College 85-49, giving Utah a 10-2 record heading into the Pac-12 schedule. And based on the team’s success with a difficult non-conference schedule, head coach Larry Krystkowiak is pleased with where the program is at.
“At the end of the day, the reason that we tackled that schedule was that it would prepare us for league,” Krystkowiak said following Utah’s win Tuesday. “I would have been okay if we were 7-5 because right now the slate is wiped clean.
“If you would have told me we could be 10-2 and get through that preseason schedule I would have hit the deal button in no time,” Krystkowiak added.
Utah enters Pac-12 play with a non-conference record similar to last season — one loss more this season — but with a much-improved slate of opponents, including ranked opponents San Diego State, Wichita State and Kansas. Krystkowiak, however, said the competition is only going to get harder and that the team can’t buy into the success from the non-conference schedule.
“I reminded our guys tonight that this is kind of season 1A, and then we’ve got the big one coming up here with 18 really good games starting Friday,” Krystkowiak said.
While Utah has had a successful beginning to its season, including a No. 10 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since the 1998-99 season, Krystkowiak is the first to temper emotions, saying the program has improved but still has a way to go before the team reaches its potential.
I'm real pleased with where we are. I don't put a whole lot of credence or validation in the fact. But to be a top 10 ranked team, I don't believe we are a top 10 team. I think there are a lot more than nine teams that could kick our butt right now.
“I’m real pleased with where we are,” Krystkowiak said. “I don’t put a whole lot of credence or validation in the fact. But to be a top 10 ranked team, I don’t believe we are a top 10 team. I think there are a lot more than nine teams that could kick our butt right now.”
Whether it’s stalling on offense in periods throughout games, too many turnovers or free throw shooting inconsistencies throughout the season, Krystkowiak said the team can fix what’s “broken” before conference play.
“We are going to have to be a heck of a lot better and ask our guys to make a commitment to doing that,” he said. “It wasn’t the greatest feeling (Tuesday), but I think we can fix what is broken. I hope that with a little different environment, some things riding on the line, that we will have more of a sense of urgency than we have the last few second halves.
“We still have a lot of areas that we need to improve on, which is the encouraging thing,” Krystkowiak added. “We have three games in about five or six nights to open up league and we are off and running.”
Utah welcomed back starting forward Jordan Loveridge, who missed about a month of play following surgery to one of his knees to repair a bone spur under the kneecap. Loveridge lead the game in scores with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, and had three rebounds and two steals in 16 minutes of play.
“It was fun to be back out there, especially after watching all the big games we just played,” Loveridge said. “It’s tough having to sit there and watch, but I’m just glad I could help them out.”
“He is a guy that I think at this point in the season is probably going to be our freshest in terms of his legs,” Krystkowiak said. “Having that month off, he’s got to be as fresh as anybody on our squad right now and ready to go for conference play.
“He hit some shots and looked like himself for the most part,” Krystkowiak added. “It was kind of mission accomplished getting him back out there so his first game back wasn’t league play. Our guys value him and it’s good to have him back in the mix. He’s played a lot of minutes in conference play, so the timing in my mind couldn’t be more perfect.”
Utah opens up conference play Friday against USC at 8 p.m. at the Huntsman Center.