- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah senior point guard Brandon Taylor refers to it as the movement - the four-year stretch where the program grew from three wins in the Pac-12 to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The No. 12-ranked Utes will play No. 14 seed Fresno State in the first round Thursday as the program continues to climb under the leadership of coach Larry Krystkowiak.

“I like to think of life as chapters in a book,” Taylor said. “In a Utah book, I want to say this is a chapter that will be one of the top chapters in this book. We did a lot of great things. It’s a surreal feeling to even be part of such a movement like this.”

Taylor and senior forward Jordan Loveridge were members of Krystkowiak’s first full recruiting class in 2012. The Utes (26-8) had completed their first season in the Pac-12 with a 6-25 record, including three conference wins. The program hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2009 and hadn’t won a game there since 2005.

Loveridge was the top recruit in Utah and is now the No. 13 scorer in school history. Taylor was overlooked out of a small Los Angeles high school and is now No. 5 in assists in school history and No. 23 in scoring. Krystkowiak in 2013 added transfer Delon Wright, who developed into the first-round selection of the Toronto Raptors in 2015. Center Jakob Poeltl came in as a 2014 freshman, was named Pac-12 player of the year this season and is a likely lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

Making the tournament was a significant step in the movement last season, but the team then advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, losing to Duke. The Utes finished as the Pac-12 runner-up in the regular season and in the tournament for the first time since joining the league, including a victory over then-No. 9 Arizona for the first time since 1998. They beat UCLA on the road for the first time since 1964.

The No. 3 NCAA Tournament seed is the highest since 1999 - and that was without Wright.

“It’s a tribute to our hard work and dedication and what we went through this summer,” sophomore forward Kyle Kuzma said. “Ever since we lost to Duke last year, we had plans of going back here. Even though we lost Delon and Dallin (Bachynski).

“The biggest thing for us is having the mental aspect of we’ve been here before. Every game is do or die. We can’t take anything lightly.”

Taylor said the biggest thing they learned from last year’s tournament is how to stay poised and not get caught up in the atmosphere and the name on the opponent’s jersey. He explained they have to “be able to calm those nerves down.”

“We know that no matter who you play, no matter how the game goes, you have to be 100 percent dialed in at every single second,” Poeltl said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re up 20 or down 20. If you lose, it’s going to be the last game of your season. So there’s really nothing to save up for.”

There’s no surprise that Krystkowiak wants to dial down the hype of a high seed and, so far, the best Utah season since he took over. Sunday’s 88-57 loss to No. 5 Oregon in the conference tournament final was still on his mind Monday and Krystkowiak said they have to improve in the areas of turnovers and rebounding. He added there has to be complete focus from the beginning and “can’t come out with a deer in the headlights look in our eyes and expect to have success.”

“But I don’t think there’s any magic with having been to the NCAA Tournament and expecting it to be any easier,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s a grind and it’s a challenge and we can throw all the rankings, the numbers, the streaks and the scrapbook out the window at this time of year.

“Am I happy with where I am? That’s taking all these things in account that we’ve already done. My brain is not really wired that way right now. It doesn’t have anything to do with what we’ve done. It’s what we’re going to try to do now. I can’t say I’m comfortable with where we are. I’m kind of on edge. I’m ready to practice.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide