With snow falling around the Jon M. Huntsman Center, Larry Krystkowiak's Runnin' Utes played host to DIII level Willamette University Friday night. The discrepancy in talent was apparent from the tip, and continued through the 104-47 blowout.
Given Willamette status, Friday's results must be tempered heavily, as Krystkowiak still doesn't know how his team stacks up against equal (or higher) talent.
Utah's out of conference schedule is alarmingly weak, but necessary. For a team of young players intended to be the foundation of Utah Basketball, confidence and success is key. Not unlike a toddler, early, positive reinforcement garners results.
While Utah enjoyed many positives and strong performances, the reaction post-game was low-key and business-like, versus jubilant and celebratory, knowing that the victory, in actuality, was just a baby step toward the ultimate goal.
After Thursday's practice, Krystkowiak emphasized that his measuring stick for success would be based solely on his team's performance, and little to nothing to do with the opponent.
Overall, his Utes showed progress in key areas of focus and emphasis throughout the week's practices. However, despite a 57 point win - even against a lesser opponent, Krystkowiak couldn't get away from the glaring negatives of the game.
"I got pretty hung up on the turnovers, I thought we got pretty sloppy with the ball in the second half. We had a goal of 12 or fewer," Krystkowiak criticized. "We had seven in the first half and same thing happened in the exhibition. We get a little bit loose, and lose our discipline and that's going to be an Achilles heel for us."
Utah's 18 turnovers were a constant theme through post-game comments, especially as Krystkowiak differentiated between the types of turnovers. Illegal screens and other turnovers that come from aggressive, tough play can be tolerated, but turnovers off of poor passing and/or decision making can not.
For Krystkowiak, too many of the latter occurred, much to his chagrin.
There's different types of turnovers. I don't mind the illegal screens so much or the 3 seconds," revealed Krystkowiak. "But when it's a passing/decision making turnover then I've got problems with that."
Still, the positives outweighed the negatives, with the most significant development being the promise of Utah's freshmen and sophomores.
A trio of freshmen consisting of Jordan Loveridge, Justin Seymour and Dakari Tucker, make up the core of the Utes' new foundation, and combined, accounted for 49 of Utah's points.
Loveridge indicated post-game that a big reason for the encouraging early play is the chemistry on the team.
"I knew all of us living together and practicing together was going to have a big impact on this team," Loveridge acknowledged. "So I knew that it was possible for us to get big numbers, or just give us chances to win."
"Us three are together all he time. We can fight with each other one minute, and the next, we can shake it off like it doesn't even matter," he said. "That's our identity. We're starting to become like a family and not letting anything outside the program effect us. [Our identity is] sticking together as a team."
Jordan Loveridge led all scorers with 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, tallying his first collegiate double-double, as did sophomore transfer Dallin Bachynski who added 11 points and 10 rebounds and one blocked shot.
One of six total Utes to score in double figures was freshman Justin Seymour, who dropped 16 points to go with six rebounds, three assists and one steal. Dakari Tucker came alive to add 13 points, three rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal to impress in his first collegiate outing.
Point guard Glen Dean and center Jason Washburn quietly rounded out the double-figure scorers, scoring 10 and 12, respectively. Washburn was two boards shy of his own double-double with eight on the night as well as one assist, one steal and three blocks, making for a solid line. The one blemish on his performance were the six turnovers he committed to lead the team on a night that featured sloppy play in the second half, in particular.
As troubling as Utah's turnovers were, just as pleasantly surprising were the 18 assists the team dished out, evidence of the new team-first, selfless mind-set Krystkowiak has emphasized with his young group.
"There were a few possessions where it was kind of a coaches' dream where everyone touched the ball & we passed up some good shots & ended up getting a great one," praised Krystkowiak. "That's the thing for us is knowing that we're going to have to do it collectively, and not ride any one person.To know that we were willing to do that in the first half kind of charged me up a bit."
Every Ute on the roster played, and scored Friday night in a 62.3 percent shooting performance. Willing to allow his team some minimum level of praise, Krystkowiak took his team's win with a sizable grain of salt, and instead chose to focus on measuring how much progress has been made to date rather than focusing on margin of victory, or other statistics that could get overblown.
"It doesn't really matter the result of the game, we're going to break down the film as a staff. At this point in the season, we're making so many mistakes in every category that we're going to find plenty there," he stated. "I'm going to watch the tape and regardless of how many points we scored, and break it down and digest it and figure it out what we're going to do with Sacramento State."