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February 26, 2013

Utes not coasting

With four games remaining in the 2012-13 season, Larry Krystkowiak's Runnin' Utes have little at stake beyond pride and perhaps momentum. Whether that momentum is intended for the Pac-12 tournament, or for next season is up for debate. Either way, whatever momentum is gained will be minimal, but if obtained, will still be valuable for a team looking to gain any competitive edge.

The Utes have played hard and competed all season long, and don't intend to quit fighting now, whatever the stakes.

With a tough road trip ahead in Bay area opponents Cal and Stanford, both of which defeated Utah in their respective first meetings against Utah, the Utes can ill afford to lay down or coast if they intend to keep their pride in tact.

Fortunately, Utah continues to practice well, as it has through the large majority of the season, even if in its final weeks the tone of practice has changed, however slightly.

"We are working on three or four things this week; top of the list is effort. At this point in the season, I don't know how much more skilled we're going to get. The Colorado game had some clips in it where we weren't playing points like they were game points," Krystkowiak noted.

Even if the teaching has transitioned into polishing or attending to more detail, the Utes are making their time count.

Monday's practice touched on several elements; ball security, defensive rebounding, conditioning and simulating late-game situations.

"Our turnovers has always been a focus, and our rebounding is probably the biggest thing, in order to finish possessions," Krystkowiak continued. "We spent a lot of time on our block-outs, and just getting a little more physical in the post."

Utah is also looking to take advantage of several days' worth of practice prior to meeting Cal, who currently sits in fourth place in conference standings with a record of 10-4; one game off of first place under the right circumstances.

Cal's Allen Crabbe leads the conference in scoring with an average of 19 points per game. Crabbe was the conference scoring leader last time the two teams met, at that time averaging 21 points per game.

Crabbe carried the Bears past the Utes last time out with his 23 points as Cal defeated Utah score of 62-57. While Crabbe didn't eclipse his per-game scoring average against the Utes, he represents one of the few elite players in the conference that the Utes didn't shut down, or at least contain.

His 23 points represented nearly 40 percent of Cal's total scoring production, and Utah is using this week to cement its game plan, something it did not do last time Utah clashed with Cal.

"We had breakdowns in our game [last time we went against Crabbe]. We had breakdowns for whatever reason, and against a guy who is capable of doing what he's doing, we had some X and O errors in terms of how we guarded him. There were some things in terms of how we went across screens, and different things," Krystkowiak recalled. "If you try to restrict him going one direction, he's really good at going the other direction, so he's really hard to guard. You almost have to play him straight up, and not try to take anything away. You just have to be engaged with him when he decides to go where he wants to way it is that he decides to go."

Crabbe has aptly demonstrated that as he goes, so go the Cal Bears, and any failure to contain him almost certainly results in a loss.

"At the end of the day, they're talking about [Crabbe] being a lottery player, and he's a really good guard. He moves really well without the ball, probably as well - well, I know he moves as well as anybody in our league before the ball gets in his hands," Krystkowiak praised and appraised Crabbe. "Then with his length and shooting ability obviously pose a problem once he catches it. So he's a big key for them, and we've been working on how to limit that weapon."

Where Cal relies heavily on Crabbe for offensive production, Stanford poses a different challenge, and Utah has also spent some time on the game plan for The Cardinal.

"[Stanford]'s got a lot of depth, and a lot of different weapons so it's hard to put your finger on you want to stop Stanford because they've had a number of different scorers that can hurt you," Krystkowiak looked ahead. "So they're maybe a harder team to scout in terms of what you decide to take away at the top of that list. Size-wise, they're one of the bigger teams and that poses a challenge for us as well. They killed us on the offensive boards when they were here, so those are all things we're trying to look at how to answer."



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