After a tough 61-58 loss to BYU Saturday, UteZone caught up with head coach Larry Krystkowiak to gauge Utah's temperature just two days later.
'We had a couple of guys not here, attending study groups. So today was just about getting out on the court and shooting a bunch. So it's hard to evaluate, but I also didn't come in here looking to evaluate that aspect specifically," explained Krystkowiak. "I think its natural to feel a little bit wounded. I think we're still catching our breath, and hopefully that's going to be the beauty of getting some time [in the next ten days] to get the taste out of our mouth."
For Krystkowiak personally, the loss is still lingering late afternoon on Monday.
"I think my spirit's a little down today, and I would expect [the team's] to be today as well. As I said, I think that's a natural response, and it's something you can use down the road, if you handle it right," he admitted. "But we are a resilient group, and we'll get over this in short order and we'll be OK. "
From a team standpoint, the Utes have said they're a family who will grow and learn from the loss at BYU, but will move on.
"The loss is still with us today, I think. But the position we're in is that we can't afford not to take steps forward every time we do something as a team. We'd rather learn from winning than losing, but the bottom line is, we're going to learn from it," said freshman Justin Seymour. "That's the positive we can take from it, and looking at the film, we already have learned from it. We saw some of the things we could have done, and it's just one more thing to take with us moving forward. We came together as a team, we played like a family, and we did get better from that loss."
The key factor that was extracted from Saturday's loss as a close observer, was the psychology of the team immediately prior to, during and after the BYU game. The over-riding thought was that the Utes expected to win.
Through multiple, consecutive seasons in turmoil, this may have been the first game in three seasons where a Utah team went into a tough situation and expected to win. They weren't shy about broadcasting it outwardly, either.
In discussing the potential break-through post-practice with Krystkowiak, he acknowledged the shift.
"For me [having that confidence] is half the battle, so yes, it's very important. Being engaged in every play, and playing as hard as you can, we did that in our last two games," Krystkowiak agreed. "We've put ourselves in positions to win in almost every instance this season. We haven't been perfect, but overall from start to finish, we've done enough in every game to give ourselves a chance to win."
Point in fact, the Utes' three losses on the season came by a combined 12 points.
Many will argue that the quality of competition is lacking, however at 8-1, SMU is proving to be a sleeper team and BYU, while potentially having a down season, is a perennial power that is tough to beat at home, no matter the circumstances.
Still Krystkowiak is always hesitant to get too high, and is always the first to temper extreme positives, or negatives.
"It all feels like we're moving in the right direction and seeing upward trends. It feels different, but at the end of the day, we're always going to talk about working hard, then go out and do that on the court," he cautioned. "When we do that and don't lose sight of that, we feel that it will always put us in some games."
Getting past the psychology, and down to Xs and Os, Krystkowiak, while pleased with his team's heart, energy and effort saw plenty of issues in need of resolution after reviewing the BYU game film.
"When you break the BYU film, there wasn't a play where we didn't play hard, but we didn't always play smart. I still say it's those three things: playing hard, playing smart and playing together," Krystkowiak repeated one of his most common basketball mantras. "There were enough chinks in our armor, where we didn't play together enough. We weren't willing to make an extra pass and there were half a dozen missed shots around the rim, where man, one more pass would have done the trick. One more pass maybe gets us a better shot."
Continuing on his assessment, Krystkowiak outlined other areas that stood out as sore thumbs in film study.
"Of course the 15 turnovers were a factor. There were plenty of - I can't say dumb, but non-intelligent decision making, so we need to shore up on playing together, and playing smart," he said. "Then we have to make sure that we find a way to keep playing hard, and that effort continues."
A common theme with regard to Utah Basketball is the team's zone offense, which was effectively shut down in the second half at BYU once the Cougars moved to a zone defense.
"Up until BYU I thought our zone attack was great. We were zoned against Idaho State, Central Michigan and Wright State, and we moved the ball," Krystkowiak analyzed.
Each of those games yielded wins, but it was BYU's 3-2 zone that threw the Utes for a loss Saturday.
"It was a 3-2 zone at BYU, and once we look at the tape more, it was less an issue of not attacking the zone, but missed shots. There were six shots in the last seven minutes that were wide open, so it's not like we just didn't have an answer," Krystkowiak defended. "We got looks out of the zone, and we took two bad shots in that stretch. The shots didn't fall, but we got the looks, and we went 6-7 from the free throw line."
While Krystkowiak wasn't discouraged by his team's zone offense, he did acknowledge that there were aspects that could yet improve.
"There were gaping holes in the middle of the lane. That was a combination of our perimeter players not necessarily looking to get the ball in, but we were almost passing before [the bigs] were getting open," he pointed out. "Just like man offense, you have to have all five guys clicking and thinking the same, and we didn't have everyone on the same page. Because of that, we didn't look as functional as we should have been."
The comment about one player on offense off the same level as everyone else has been a common theme for Krystkowiak throughout the season. On multiple occasions post-game, he has made a similar comment, so that it was brought up again is evidence that some of the mistakes are being repeated, even if most are not.
"Yeah, I have said that a lot after games. So it's funny that you sometimes forget that you need the same focus against the zone, so we've got the time now in this next ten days to shore some of that up," he said. "We'll work on some of the zone stuff, and it will be up to us coaches in the next ten days to identify the key things hounding us now, and using this time to teach and correct."