SALT LAKE CITY — Another losing conference season normally does not inspire much confidence for a team going into its conference basketball tournament.
Yet, the Utah Utes believe they have a chance to pull off the improbable, if not impossible, this week in Las Vegas. An 8-11 record in the Pac-12 would suggest otherwise, but Larry Krystkowiak's team has visions of cutting down the nets after winning four games in T-Mobile Arena.
"We have an opportunity to get as hot as anybody else does in this league right now, and we're confident that we can do that," Krystkowiak said during an interview on The Zone Sports Network.
As coach-speak goes, the above statement ranks among the best of them for a team that hasn't been above .500 in conference play the last two seasons. At no point this year has Utah come close to winning four consecutive games required to win the tournament.
Actually, the truth lies in the exact opposite. The Utes have had two four-game losing streaks this season.
But at the same time, this team has been unpredictable at nearly every turn during this pandemic-ravaged season. Just as the losses piled up, leading them with the opportunity to quit, the Utes responded with stunning turnarounds.
Maybe Krystkowiak isn't as crazy as he sounds.
"We've played with everybody," he said. "We've had nice leads against everybody in our conference, one through 11, and now we need to bottle it up at a special time of year when everybody heads down to Vegas and see if we can play some consistent basketball and win some games."
Therein lies the problem. The Utes have been anything but consistent this season.
Even within individual games, they often are wildly inconsistent. Over a four-game stretch in mid-January, Utah lost three games despite holding a double-digit lead at halftime in all three.
Then, after blowing another double-digit early in a loss to Washington — a team that finished the regular season at 5-20 — Utah overcame a 19-point deficit with nine minutes left in the game to stun Colorado in Boulder. Never mind that the Buffaloes were 11-1 at home this season.
Hard to believe the big teasers suddenly will hit a stride.
"We've got to get dialed in," Krystkowiak said. "This is the time of year when we lose now, we're done. This is the end of the fight, and let's make sure if we're going down that we're going to go down swinging. Our players will understand that loud and clear. The more you can get unified with that thought, I think the better the chance you have to win some games."
Why the maddening inconsistency?
Fully aware of his team's inadequacies, Krystkowiak was hesitant to point out the Utes only play one senior in the rotation. Utah's perpetual youth movement is due to the stream of players transferring out of the program, a fact that has contributed to Krystkowiak's job security being in question.
The most recent casualty was Both Gach, who played two seasons for the Utes before transferring to Minnesota. Krystkowiak called Gach's decision to leave an obvious mistake, which is true based on less playing time for a 6-14 Big Ten team compared to what he got at Utah.
The good thing is after hours of time spent reviewing game film, the Utes can easily pinpoint the reasons for the dramatic swings in the overall performance.
"It's not a mystery to our team," Krystkowiak said. "It really isn't because we had enough sample size, we had data. ... If there's ever a time to put it together, it's right now. I think the consistency comes in just being steady and consistent with the approach of the next possession, and that's going to give us a chance to advance and maybe win some games."
A favorable draw should allow the Utes to win at least one game, which they haven't done since 2016. USC, which the Utes beat last month, faces the winner of Utah vs. Washington in the first round.