SALT LAKE CITY — Coming off a sweep at home against two Oregon teams, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak decided to make a change to his starting lineup ahead of the team’s Los Angeles trip.
The one change: senior guard Parker Van Dyke.
It’s not that Van Dyke did anything wrong, per se; it was just an opportunity for Krystkowiak to mix up his most consistent starting lineup of the season — a lineup that played in a nine-game stretch that started with Arizona State to open conference play. Freshman guard Both Gach, whose athletic abilities — albeit still raw — could likely give the Utes a bit of a jump-start, was inserted into the starting lineup.
It’s not a scenario unfamiliar to Van Dyke, who has been moved in and out of the starting lineup for much of his career at Utah. His skill set as a spot-up shooter isn’t bound or limited by his ability to start a game or play a certain amount of minutes.
In fact, teammates say Van Dyke is one of the best shooters they’ve seen in practice, as 3-point shot after 3-point shot rains down at the Huntsman practice facility. In games, too, Van Dyke has improved his 3-point shooting by nearly 10 percent since last season, upping his 3-point percentage per game from 30.7 percent to 40.4 percent, while increasing his average 3-point shot attempts from 2.9 to 5.0 this season.
So it came as no surprise that Van Dyke became somewhat of the hero Saturday as he drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from about 25 feet out to defeat UCLA 93-92 in a come-from-behind victory. The shot heard around Pauley Pavilion was the final statement to an impressive 22-point comeback victory in a game where Utah never led until the final buzzer sounded.
Van Dyke, who saw only 18 total minutes of play against the Bruins, subbed into the game at the 13-minute mark in the second half as Utah trailed by 20 and appeared out of any chance of making a comeback. Still, there was plenty of time left in the game, and the Bruins were no longer shooting 70 percent from the field.
In a matter of 3 minutes, Van Dyke drained three 3-pointers and got Utah within 14 points, and the Utes got to work at chipping away at the lead. After a brief stint back on the bench, Van Dyke was brought back into the game with 1:33 left as Utah was down by 7 points.
PVD for 👌👌👌 pic.twitter.com/QyU1lytNBF— KSL.com Sports (@KSLcomSports) February 10, 2019
And just like that, Van Dyke hit another 3-pointer and a comeback became a reality with 52 seconds left in the game. His fifth and final 3-pointer was the money shot — the embodiment of all the hard work he’s put into the program over the years and the dream opportunity for every kid who's ever played basketball and run through that exact scenario in their backyard.
“I knew that it felt good leaving my hands,” Van Dyke told media after the game. “My mind was pretty clear and Sedrick (Barefield) made a great pass. I just kind of let it fly.
“I let it go, and it just felt great.”
Regardless of minutes played, Van Dyke has always been the ultimate team player and has been willing to do whatever necessary to help his team be as competitive as possible, even if it means giving up a starting role. And he does it all while giving 100 percent in practice and during the game, never missing a beat to help his team or acting as a distraction because his minutes have changed.
If his shots are falling, Van Dyke’s minutes never become an issue anyway, as he’ll be playing to add another threat on the floor. And in the case of Utah head coach Krystkowiak, it’s not a matter of who starts the game, rather who finishes — a lesson Krystkowiak learned from former Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan.
Finishing the game strong is what matters most.
And that’s why Van Dyke is often played in the closing minutes of the game. His hard work off the court — in the moments when nobody is looking — speak volumes to his coach and makes him a trusted asset in the most vital stretches of the game.