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February 16, 2013

A prevailing characteristic

The 2012-13 basketball season has been as big a roller coaster as any in recent history - which is saying something.

The peaks and valleys are derivative of different causes than in past seasons, but the emotional toll has been about the same as other recently tumultuous Ute seasons.

Indeed, this season hasn't been fun, it hasn't been consistent, and it hasn't been particularly encouraging . In fact, probably the best adjective to describe the season would be frustrating.

An eternal optimist might use the word resilient.

Resilient would be just as fair a term, and as accurate as any of the other adjectives suggested, with the only difference being that it would represent the descriptor with a positive connotation.

After a handful of extreme highs and subsequent losses, the season has indeed been a roller coaster, if not a vicious cycle. The sheer number of losses have made the highs all the more joyous, making the subsequent losses feel that much worse.

After each devastating loss, or series of losses, the Utes have somehow found a way to rally for a timely, big win. Close losses or no-show blow-outs notwithstanding Utah Basketball has shown that it won't quit; a cue taken from head coach Larry Krystkowiak.

"Coaching is teaching, and one of the things I guess I've been able to teach, something that has gotten through to this group is to avoid the extreme highs and lows of a season. If you don't learn to do that, it ends up just being torture," explained Krystkowiak. "After a thousand games or so in the league, that's something you learn how to do, or you don't survive. You can't survive that if you let yourself drop to the lows, or rise to the highs. It's just not realistic that you'll succeed if you can't learn that lesson."

Utah players, including freshmen like Brandon Taylor acknowledge the lessons they've learned from their experienced coach.

"We've just been a team that's been good at putting it behind us. Not every time, not after every loss but we do bounce back from it, eventually. We'd like to maybe do it sooner, but that's just another thing we can work on. When it has really mattered, and we really needed it, we have been able to bounce back," said Taylor. "I think that comes from Coach, because that's something he's tried to really instill. If you can't put it behind you, you can't move forward. So I don't see how you have really any choice, if you want to win, but to put it behind you."

The Utes haven't just made things difficult for themselves, or their fans through the course of the season as even games have been known to take huge swings. The Utes have given up leads of over 20 points, resulting in losses, twice this season and pulled out a tight game after allowing Colorado to come back from over twenty points.

In its home win over Arizona State Wednesday Utah was seemingly in control, cruising through the first half, and into the mid-way point of the second half before falling behind by as many as eight points late in the half.

Taylor, battling a wrist injury on his shooting hand had a poor shooting night, going 0-6 before nailing a key three pointer that brought Utah back to within one point at 2:09 in the second half, evidence again of that same resiliency so oft-discussed.

"It doesn't really bother me, I'm always confident. I had a tough shooting night, but with my wrist and everything, all of those shots felt really good. They just weren't falling, but whatever the reason I never lose confidence," Taylor explained. "It's always about the next shot, and on to the next thing. You can't get caught up in that. So in that game, I knew if I got the shot I'd take it without hesitation, and knock it down. I'm learning to put things in the past and leave them there."

Senior guard Jarred DuBois who just two short weeks ago was candid about his frustrations with his final, senior season of collegiate basketball. Following the big win over ASU, however, DuBois acknowledged the big swing after Friday's practice.

"You just have to keep it all in perspective, and try to learn something from every loss, and every win. I was frustrated, I have been frustrated, but I have also said that everything happens for a reason, and there is a lesson in everything. Good or bad," DuBois theorized. "Wednesday was big, like a pay off because it showed that we learned all the lessons we needed to from some of those losses. If you go through hard times, and get nothing out of it, that's what is frustrating."

So while everyone prefers a winning season to substituting words like 'resilient' in order to gloss things over, the fact remains that resiliency is perhaps the biggest positive to an otherwise trying basketball season.

It stands to reason that Utah's underclassmen will carry these hard-earned lessons with them through their long tenures at Utah. Painful as they have been, those lessons have been, and are valuable.

"They have been tough, some of these losses this year, no question. But think about these freshmen and the experience they are getting this early in their careers," said one Utah coach Friday. "You can't buy experience like this, and to be getting it with three and a half years left in their careers, it's big."

So perhaps this undeniably valuable, but terribly painful experience is the silver lining to the season, but for many impatient Ute fans, it may not be enough to satisfy. Yet, it will have to suffice, because the experience, and the resiliency may very well be all there is.

Whether enough or not, it is something to build upon, and for a program in its infancy of rebuilding, it's a solid, if thin, first layer of the newly laid foundation.

"I think it has given us a different kind of confidence,and it's made us mentally strong. That's something we've been talking about all year, but you don't really know how to go out and get it. You can practice shooting to score more, or you can lift weights to get stronger, but the mental toughness is something you just get. You have to go through it, all the tough times to get it," said Taylor. "So I feel like, I hope, we are getting that out of the way. We've had the tough times, and we weathered them and we learned the lessons. What's come out of it is that we're more mentally strong. It feels a little bit different now. I think the worst is past us."


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