Category: Utah

University of Utah Sports News - Football, Basketball And More

Feb 23

Brad Rock: Utes baffling the ‘experts’ again

SALT LAKE CITY — Larry Krystkowiak was at his effusive best, Thursday night, even going Jack London in the postgame interviews regarding his team's effort.

“The strength of each wolf is in the pack,” he said.

In that case, it’s time for the rest of the conference to make for the cabin.

In keeping with a prominent Pac-12 observer’s guess that Utah will win the conference tournament, the Utes held off UCLA, 84-78, at the Huntsman Center. The Ute coach has been saying for weeks there was much basketball remaining. Not anymore. But in between, his team pulled out of a four-game spiral and has now won 8 of its last 10. With two games left, the Utes are, at worst, a threat to anyone they face in the postseason. At best, they’re headed for a No. 2 seed in the conference tourney — far above projections.

But that’s how Krystkowiak’s teams always respond. They act like they have a secret no one else knows. A pair of wins for the 18-9 Utes could help secure an NCAA Tournament berth. While 20 wins used to be the magic number, that’s not the case anymore. But seven actually would be magic — the number of consecutive victories if they win out against USC and Colorado.

After Thursday’s game, Krystkowiak made for the stands where former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan — wearing a red shirt — and ex-Jazz center Mark Eaton awaited. Seems everyone is tracking what the Utes are doing.

Last time they played UCLA, they were stuck in the aforementioned slump. Now San Jose Mercury News writer Jon Wilner has the Utes winning the Pac-12 conference tournament and the ensuing automatic NCAA berth. With USC’s No. 2 scorer and rebounder Bennie Boatwright out for the year, and Arizona star Allonzo Trier suspended, the Utah karma is strong.

“I don’t know how it’s all going to shake out,” Krystkowiak said.

The Utes' current five-game win streak has them in position for a top-four finish in the regular season, which would mean a first-round bye in the conference tournament. That’s good news for a team picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll.

In the Krystkowiak era, the Utes are always better than expected. Preceding Utah’s first year in the Pac-12, they were voted last in the preseason poll, but finished 11th. The next year they were also picked 12th, but finished 10th. In 2014, an expected ninth-place team finished eighth.

The only year Utah hasn’t outstripped expectations was in 2015 when it tied for second after being picked second. In 2016, the Utes finished second after a third-place prognostication. Tabbed for an eighth-place finish, last year, they landed in fourth.

Shouldn’t Krystkowiak be saying, “I told you so?”

“Well, you’re the experts,” he told reporters. “I don’t know if it’s ‘atta boy’ for me or you guys just keep making mistakes.”

How good the Utes should be on a regular basis is complicated. With UCLA, Arizona, USC and Oregon to recruit against, fourth place on most years isn’t a bad showing. At the same time, Utah is no Big Dance wannabe. The Utes have been to the NCAA Tournament 29 times, including two of the last three years. They’ve reached the Sweet 16 10 times, most recently in 2015.

Given the Pac-12’s penchant for beating itself — only one team has fewer than five conference losses — and the league’s modest national status, it seems questionable whether a fourth-place team could make the NCAA tourney. Only two Pac-12 teams made the field in 2012, but in 2016, seven made the cut. No. 14 Arizona is the only team in this week’s top 25.

Krystkowiak maintains Utah has played itself into position to determine its postseason destiny. With an 18-9 record, only a showy finish would catch the selection committee’s eye. But showy is just what the Utes have been doing.

In keeping with Krystkowiak’s “Call of the Wild” theme, the Utes made 15 of 17 free throws, hit seven first-half 3-pointers, and finished with four players in double figures against UCLA.

So the Utes do what they can. It’s unrealistic to think they will regularly out-recruit the best teams in the conference. Which is why Krystkowiak can smile about flummoxing the pollsters. Again the Utes have caught the experts unawares. But they shouldn’t. Looking better in person than on paper is what they do.

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Feb 23

Parker Van Dyke emerges as unlikely hero with big baskets in Utah’s win over UCLA

SALT LAKE CITY — An unlikely hero emerged in Utah’s 84-78 victory over UCLA Thursday night at the Huntsman Center.

Parker Van Dyke, who grew up in the shadows of the University of Utah, playing down the street at East High School, came up with the biggest plays of his Ute career and perhaps the biggest plays of the season for the Utes, who won their fifth straight game and continued their climb up the Pac-12 standings.

Van Dyke, who came into the game averaging just 4.0 points on the season, scored a career-high 18 points and hit two 3-pointers with the shot clock running down during the final three minutes to give the Utes the huge victory over the Bruins in front of a frenzied Huntsman Center crowd.

Coach Larry Krystkowiak is happy for all of his players to have success, but was especially happy for Van Dyke, who has barely gotten off the bench in some games this season.

“It was really cool,” Krystkowiak said. “I actually had a flashback of him being a little shaver and coming to these games when he was just a little ankle-biter. To be on a stage like with that two big threes was huge. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid.”

Van Dyke was in the starting lineup for just the eighth time this season and had to play extra minutes (34) Thursday with starting guard Sedrick Barefield out with an injury to his ribs.

In the first half, Van Dyke sank a couple of shots and then added a layup and a 3-pointer in the opening minutes of the second half when the Utes stretched their lead to 57-45.

Van Dyke’s heroics began when the Utes were clinging to a 70-69 lead after the Bruins had come nearly all the way back from a 14-point deficit. None of the Utes seemed to want to shoot, but with three seconds on the shot clock, Van Dyke fired a shot from the left corner and hit nothing but net to move the margin to four.

“I drove and kicked to Gabe (Bealer) and he didn’t have a shot so I got it right back. You look up at the shot clock and there’s four seconds left and it’s ticking down and you’ve just got to make a play.”

Then with under a minute to play, the Utes were leading 75-72 and again, the shot clock was winding down when Van Dyke saw the clock was down to one. His shot from the top of the key swished, giving the Utes some breathing room with 41 seconds left.

“Your thought process goes out the window when there’s two or three seconds left,” Van Dyke said. “You’ve got to make sure you get a shot up, when the clocks ticking you have to make a play for yourself or your teammates.”

Later Van Dyke added a pair of free throws for the Utes’ final margin.

After the game, Van Dyke was mobbed at center court by his teammates, Barefield in particular, and the Utah MUSS began chanting “PVD, PVD, PVD."

“He works hard every day, whether he’s playing or not, he’s giving it every day,” said Ute center David Collette. “He stepped up in a big way for us tonight.”

As for Van Dyke, it was a night he said he'll never forget.

“It’s special,” Van Dyke said. “I grew up watching games on the Huntsman Center floor to have an opportunity to play every game is awesome. But this game, specifically, is something I’ll always remember.”

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Feb 23

Utes edge UCLA, 84-78, move into a tie for third in the Pac-12

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah guard Parker Van Dyke said Thursday night’s 84-78 victory over UCLA was a game he’ll never forget and a great win.

He may have understated the situation.

The junior from nearby East High School scored a career-high 18 points and made a pair of key 3-pointers in the closing minutes as the Utes improved to 18-9 overall and 10-6 in Pac-12 play with their fifth consecutive triumph. They’re now tied with the Bruins (19-9, 10-6) for third place with two games to go before next month’s conference tournament in Las Vegas.

“It was really cool. I mean I actually had a little flashback thinking of him as a little shaver coming to these games when he was just a little ankle-biter,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “To be on a stage like that and a point like that hitting two big threes was huge.”

A pair of seniors also had big nights for the Utes. Forward David Collette finished with a team-high 21 points and made all nine shots he attempted from the field. Guard Justin Bibbins posted a double-double with 17 points and 10 assists.

“I think the big thing was our free throws. When you look at that it’s something that we’re not going to talk about a whole lot,” Krystkowiak said. “But for us to be able to go 15 for 17 from the free throw line in a game of that magnitude, down the stretch making them, it turned out to be just what we needed.”

Trailing 22-15 midway through the first half, Utah surged back into contention. A 3-pointer by Bibbins and six points from Collette powered a 9-2 run that tied things up. A few minutes later, Donnie Tillman made a 3-pointer to give the Utes their first lead at 27-26. The freshman followed it up with a steal and a dunk.

After UCLA knotted the score for the fourth time, Utah seized control with back-to-back 3-pointers by Bibbins and Tyler Rawson to make it 35-29 with 4:21 left to play in the half. It fueled an 11-3 burst than gave the Utes an eight-point advantage.

Although the Bruins eventually cut the deficit to 42-40, Utah wound up leading 47-40 at halftime. Collette was 6 for 6 from the field over the first 20 minutes, while Tillman was 3 for 4. Bibbins had seven assists.

The Utes shot 64.3 percent (18 of 28) from the field and made 7 of 13 from 3-point range. The Bruins, meanwhile, made 41.7 percent (15 of 36) their shots and were outscored 12-2 on points off of turnovers. Collette’s success led Utah to an 18-8 edge in points in the paint.

When play resumed, the Utes came out firing. They scored the first seven points of the second half to lead 54-40. UCLA was held scoreless for nearly 31/2 minutes. The Bruins awoke from their slumber with a 27-16 spurt over the next 14 minutes. It closed the gap to one point.

That’s when Van Dyke hit the first of two 3-point shots in the final 2:15. Leading 73-69, Utah held on down the stretch with Van Dyke’s second long connection and eight free throws over the last 90 seconds. Bibbins led the way with four, while Gabe Bealer and Van Dyke added two apiece as the Utes remained in front.

“It was a close call. It was guys making some plays,” Krystkowiak said. “I thought we got a couple of key stops.”

Krystkowiak added that Collette was terrific and that Tyler Rawson (12 points, 7 rebounds) was good, as was Bibbins with his line.

Utah has a quick turnaround. The Utes host USC. (20-9, 11-5) Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The Trojans defeated Colorado 75-64 on Wednesday.

“I love our chances, especially if we continue to do what we do,” Van Dyke said of Utah’s bid for an NCAA tournament berth. “The thing is with these five games we’ve won is we’ve had great practices leading up to each game and so we have to continue to do that.”

Van Dyke added that’s it’s not s time to rest and relax.

“We’ve got to continue to improve and get better,” he said.

Email: Twitter: @DirkFacer

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Feb 23

3 keys in Utah basketball’s 84-78 victory over UCLA

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah won its fifth straight and picked up an important victory in the Pac-12 race, beating UCLA 84-78 Thursday night at the Huntsman Center.

Turning point: With Utah nursing a 75-72 lead heading into the final minute, Parker Van Dyke drilled a 3-pointer with a hand in his face and the shot clock running down to put the Utes up six with 41 seconds remaining. Despite UCLA responding immediately with a 3-pointer, Utah hit enough free throws down the stretch to win.

The hero: Van Dyke scored a career-high 18 points, hitting a team-high four 3-pointers while adding three rebounds, two assists and two steals. David Collette was also a perfect 9-for-9 from the field and finished with a team-high 21 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal.

3 keys

- The Utes outshot the Bruins from the field, 52.7 percent to 42.4 percent.

- Utah had 30 points in the paint, to 20 for UCLA.

- The Utes made 15 of 17 free-throws, while the Bruins hit 9 of 11.

Utah almanac: 18-9, 10-6 Pac-12, Won 5

Next 3

Saturday vs. USC (20-9, 11-5), 12:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

Saturday, March 3 vs. Colorado (15-13, 7-9), 5 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

March 7-10, TBD at Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas

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Feb 23

No. 14 Arizona’s Trier suspended for trace amount of PED

The NCAA has declared No. 14 Arizona's Allonzo Trier ineligible for the reappearance of the banned substance that led to a 19-game suspension last season.

The school said the NCAA notified the Wildcats on Thursday that the junior guard had a trace amount of the substance from a drug test late last month. Arizona did not specify the drug, saying only it was a banned substance.

Arizona says the amount detected was minuscule by scientific standards and appeared to be a remnant of the performance-enhancing drug Trier unknowingly ingested last season. The NCAA agreed, the school said.

Arizona is appealing the decision and hoping Trier will regain his eligibility soon.

Trier sat out the first 19 games in 2016-17 after testing positive for the drug, which he said came from a well-intentioned person not affiliated with the university following an injury.

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Feb 22

Morning links: Utes picked to win Pac-12 tournament; Red-White football game time announced

With two weeks until the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament, there is still plenty to be decided in the league.

One prognosticator sees bright things ahead for Utah.

In his latest Pac-12 power rankings for The Mercury News, Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group made several predictions, from league player of the year to the number of conference teams that will make the NCAA tournament. He also picked the Utes as his champion for the upcoming conference tournament.

“I’m not convinced Arizona will defend with the consistency necessary over three days; USC’s challenges are steep without Bennie Boatwright; and UCLA relies too heavily on one player (Aaron Holiday),” Wilner wrote.

“I considered picking Oregon but opted for the Utes because of their bye into the quarterfinals. The Ducks probably will have to play in the opening round, creating a far more arduous path to the title.”

See Wilner’s other predictions and his latest power rankings for The Mercury News here.

Bubble watch

Before they get to the league tournament, though, there are still three regular-season games for the Utes. That includes home contests against UCLA and USC this week, as well as the regular-season home finale against Colorado a week from Saturday.

Utah, on a four-game winning streak, is fighting its way into the at-large NCAA tournament discussion with its recent hot play. Several teams from the Pac-12 find themselves in the NCAA bubble watch talks right now, including the Utes, UCLA, USC and Washington.

ESPN’s John Gasaway tackled the Pac-12’s current dilemma for the upcoming NCAA tournament in his latest bubble watch article, saying the league could have as little as two teams (Arizona and Arizona State) make the NCAA tourney, or earn as many as six spots in the tournament.

And Utah is right in the middle of all the action.

“Then there’s the case of Utah, which might present the most interesting example. The Utes currently appear to be a step below the Trojans, Bruins and Huskies in terms of their tournament profile,” Gasaway wrote.

“Be that as it may, Utah might be the hottest team in the league right now. The Utes have won four straight games and will be playing at home for their final three regular-season games. A 12-6 finish in Pac-12 play is a real possibility.”

Sports Illustrated’s Michael Beller puts Utah in his “On the Fringe” category when discussing the latest bubble watch outlook.

“The Utes likely need to win out — which also includes a game against Colorado next week — to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid,” Beller wrote.

Other links

Kyle Kuzma teases Lonzo Ball charging Andrew Bogut $1.99 for Big Baller Brand emojis (For the Win)

Report: Broncos seem intent on giving Devontae Booker the starting running back job (Mile High Report)

5 Newcomers to watch for the Utah Utes in 2018 (Athlon Sports)

And finally …

Basketball season hasn’t even ended, and it’s already time to start thinking about another sport. Earlier this week, the Utah Athletics Twitter account shared the date for the annual Red-White spring football game.

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Feb 22

Morning links: Prognosticator calls for Utes to win Pac-12 tournament; where Utah sits on the NCAA tourney bubble

With two weeks until the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament, there is still plenty to be decided in the league.

One prognosticator sees bright things ahead for Utah.

In his latest Pac-12 power rankings for The Mercury News, Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group made several predictions, from league player of the year to the number of conference teams that will make the NCAA Tournament. He also picked the Utes as his champion for the upcoming conference tournament.

“I’m not convinced Arizona will defend with the consistency necessary over three days; USC’s challenges are steep without Bennie Boatwright; and UCLA relies too heavily on one player (Aaron Holiday),” Wilner wrote.

“I considered picking Oregon but opted for the Utes because of their bye into the quarterfinals. The Ducks probably will have to play in the opening round, creating a far more arduous path to the title.”

See Wilner’s other predictions and his latest power rankings for The Mercury News here.

Bubble watch

Before they get to the league tournament, though, there are still three regular-season games for the Utes. That includes home contests against UCLA and USC this week, as well as the regular-season home finale against Colorado a week from Saturday.

Utah, on a four-game winning streak, is fighting its way into the at-large NCAA tournament discussion with its recent hot play. Several teams from the Pac-12 find themselves in the NCAA bubble watch talks right now, including the Utes, UCLA, USC and Washington.

ESPN’s John Gasaway tackled the Pac-12’s current dilemma for the upcoming NCAA tournament in his latest bubble watch article, saying the league could have as little as two teams (Arizona and Arizona State) make the NCAA tourney, or earn as many as six spots in the tournament.

And Utah is right in the middle of all the action.

“Then there’s the case of Utah, which might present the most interesting example. The Utes currently appear to be a step below the Trojans, Bruins and Huskies in terms of their tournament profile,” Gasaway wrote.

“Be that as it may, Utah might be the hottest team in the league right now. The Utes have won four straight games and will be playing at home for their final three regular-season games. A 12-6 finish in Pac-12 play is a real possibility.”

Sports Illustrated’s Michael Beller puts Utah in his “On the Fringe” category when discussing the latest bubble watch outlook.

“The Utes likely need to win out — which also includes a game against Colorado next week — to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid,” Beller wrote.

Other links

Kyle Kuzma teases Lonzo Ball charging Andrew Bogut $1.99 for Big Baller Brand emojis (For the Win)

Report: Broncos seem intent on giving Devontae Booker the starting running back job (Mile High Report)

5 Newcomers to watch for the Utah Utes in 2018 (Athlon Sports)

And finally …

Basketball season hasn’t even ended, and it’s already time to start thinking about another sport. Earlier this week, the Utah Athletics Twitter account shared the date for the annual Red-White spring football game.

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Feb 21

Utah basketball team looking for redemption against UCLA after poor effort in Los Angeles

SALT LAKE CITY — Since the start of the Pac-12 season, the Utah Utes have played just three poor games and two of them were on an early January trip to Los Angeles, where the Utes were blown out by UCLA by 19 points and USC by 17 points.

The Utes have a chance for some redemption this weekend while trying to keep their late-season surge going, taking on the Bruins Thursday night (7 p.m.) at the Huntsman Center, followed by a game with the Trojans Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

Winners of seven of their last nine games, the Utes stand fourth in the Pac-12 standings at 9-6, a game behind both UCLA and USC at 10-5. A pair of wins will vault the Utes into at least a tie for second place going into the season finale against Colorado at home next weekend.

Coach Larry Krystkowiak talked earlier this week about how his team “controls its own destiny” and won’t have to rely on help from other teams to stay in the top four of the conference and avoid an opening-round game in the conference tournament in Las Vegas.

“We’ve only got three left, so we’ll just try to take care of business with what’s in front of us,” he said.

Krystkowiak calls UCLA, “the best offensive team in our conference” and says the Utes need to slow the Bruins transition game and not allow any easy baskets.

“They get up and down the floor and they’ve got some tremendous athletes,” Krystkowiak said. “They do a really good job of defensive rebounding — first in our conference in rebounding. They have a double-double machine in (Thomas) Welsh and (Aaron) Holiday (19.4 ppg, 5.7 apg) is the best point guard in our conference.”

However, even though the Utes aren’t as offensively-minded as the Bruins, they’re not going to be afraid to run with them Thursday night.

“Pace is a funny thing,” Krystkowiak said. “We’re in pretty good shape in terms of conditioning and we’re playing at elevation. As we all know this mountain trip is not easy. If we can get stops we’re going to try to generate our own pace. It’s an important factor for us to find the right pace and we will.”

The Bruins come into Thursday’s game at 10-5 in conference play, having beaten Oregon State and Oregon at home last weekend. Like the Utes, UCLA is on the NCAA bubble and can’t afford any more losses in Pac-12 play.

A better start will be a key for the Utes against UCLA. In the Jan. 11 game at Pauley Pavilion, the Utes fell behind 19-7 by the first media timeout and faced an uphill battle the rest of the way.

“I remember it well,” said Krystkowiak. “They had 19 points four minutes into the game, which according to my math puts them on pace for about 190 points, which would have been a new record. They throttled us pretty good.”

Senior center David Collette, who has been on a tear over the last four games, hitting 84 percent of his field goals, said the Utes need wins this weekend if they want to go to the NCAA Tournament next month.

“We had a terrible road trip down there playing against them — we had no energy,” he said. “We’re excited to be back home and it will be a good chance to get them back. It’s a huge week for us — we need these wins if we want to have a chance of going to the tournament.

UTE NOTES: The Utes played their most recent game against Washington State without two key players, reserve center Jayce Johnson and starting guard Sedrick Barefield, who went out after playing just four minutes for unspecified reasons. When asked about their status for Thursday, Krystkowiak said, “no injury discussion, sorry” ... Utah is 10-2 at home this year. The Bruins are only 2-5 in road games this season ... UCLA leads the league with 39 rebounds a game, while the Utes are 10th in rebound margin ... Utah is 7-10 all time against UCLA and 3-6 since joining the Pac-12.

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Feb 21

An inside look at how Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma is stylin’, how his T-shirts are flyin’ and how he’s livin’ large in LA

LOS ANGELES — His charming, light-skinned face is displayed on the cover of the Rolling Out Magazine’s latest All-Star issue.

Even GQ has him posing for portrait studio shots on behalf of Neiman Marcus.

It’s nothing for him to be in contact with West Coast rapper YG on a regular day or to see his 6-foot-9, 220-pound frame featured in ads for Nike House of Hoops, Dick’s Sporting Goods or A Bathing Ape.

Everything from meeting for dinner with Kobe Bryant to attending GQ parties or being invited to Michel Jordan’s birthday party at a $100 million mansion in Bel Air, Los Angeles Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma has been there, done that in all of eight months.

Just last year, the Flint, Michigan native enjoyed NBA All-Star Weekend as a junior at the University of Utah and now he’s one of the hottest young stars in the league. He dropped 20 points and seven rebounds in Friday's Rising Stars Challenge.

“Yeah, he’s Hollywood,” laughed Brandon Ingram, Kuzma’s Lakers teammate. “He’s adjusted well. I think with all the hype around everyone and him, I think he’s handled it well by coming in to try and put in work every single day. He’s a student of the game.”

Every time he touches the ball in Staples Center, fans shower the arena with chants of “KUUUUUUZ.”

The 22-year-old has certainly arrived on the scene, seemingly out of nowhere, as the 27th pick of this year’s star-studded draft. But no matter what happens off the court, Kuzma knows basketball is what got him to this point.

He is the third-leading rookie scorer, averaging 15.7 points and 5.9 rebounds, and isn’t satisfied until his name is mentioned with the all-time greats.

“I just want to have a great, long, successful career and be one of the greatest players,” Kuzma said. “That’s what drives me. I just want to be a great player. I work really hard on my game and that’s what I’m driven for.”

In addition to his Nike deal, Kuzma’s “Kuzmania” T-shirts and apparel are flying off the shelves. During All-Star weekend, he met with fans at several autograph sessions that drew roughly 1,000 people at each stop. His mother, Karri, and sister, Briana, were able to witness the excitement firsthand and recently left Los Angeles in awe of his newfound popularity.

“I’m like, Wow,” Karri explained.

Even Kuzma’s personal fashion and style is evolving as the paparazzi captures one of Los Angeles' fresh new faces.

“With his clothes, he’s doing his own styling so he doesn’t really have a stylist and he’s just putting stuff together,” Karri said. “He’s trying new things so that’s cool.”

Fellow Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has developed a brotherhood with Kuzma these past few months after going through their transition together. They’re constantly hanging out, building chemistry, and aren’t afraid to banter one another in private or through social media for good laughs.

“He definitely changed how he dresses a lot for the worse in my opinion but that’s just Kuz,” Ball said, joking.

One of Kuzma’s first big purchases after signing his rookie deal was a 2018 Porsche Panamera and a luxurious, three-bedroom apartment for his family in Grand Blanc, Michigan — a suburb of Flint.

“I found out the name was Porsche. I used to (pronounce) it Porsh but it's Porsche, but I got one of those,” Kuzma explained.

Even more so than living lavishly, Kuzma is happy to share the experience of Los Angeles’ bright lights with his family, lifelong friends from Flint, former coaches and others close to him who may never have witnessed that lifestyle firsthand.

He continues to provide opportunities back home through local holiday giveaways and AAU sponsorship until he really gets things in order to help the city. A foundation is in the works.

“A lot has changed. Coming from Flint, there's not a lot there,” Kuzma said. “Basketball has always been a safe haven for me, so I’ve been blessed to continue playing and going to Utah was a different transition from Flint.

“Going from a city that was predominately African-American to Salt Lake City was two different things. Then coming out to the bright lights of LA was a culture shock so it’s been a whirlwind for sure.”

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Feb 21

Utah lacrosse team gearing up for transition to NCAA sanctioned sport

SALT LAKE CITY — Eight months after University of Utah lacrosse head coach Brian Holman officially announced his team had been approved to become an official NCAA Division I sanctioned sport, he broke into a smile while recalling the moment that he found out that the Utes were moving up in the college lacrosse world.

“My reaction was just sheer joy and happiness and extreme gratitude. That would be the three words that pop into my head right away,” Holman said.

“My heart was filled with joy, because it was a process that we worked really hard toward, and a lot of people were doubting us, thinking it wouldn’t happen, and so when it finally came out, it was just kind of this rush of joy, for sure,” said Seth Neeleman, a sophomore and team captain.

After about a year-long process approved the Utes to compete in Division I lacrosse, Utah will start competing as an NCAA-sanctioned team in the spring of 2019.

The Utes have the funding and facilities to smoothly transition to the Division I level, but they are currently missing one big piece of the puzzle — a conference. Currently, Utah doesn’t have an invitation from a major NCAA conference to join for lacrosse.

“It’s just something we work on constantly. ... If we don’t end up getting in a conference, we have two choices — we’re an independent, play a tough schedule and win our way into the (NCAA) tournament, or we end up, hopefully some more teams come along and we form our own conference. That’s our mentality,” Holman said.

Before Utah begins to realize its dream of competing with the likes of East Coast schools like Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, North Carolina and Duke, it has one final club season to play, and the Utes intend to make the most of it. The Utes are off to a 3-0 start after victories over Cal Poly, Arizona and Cal.

“We haven’t changed since we got here. We run our practices, and we run our drills and we have our expectations, whether we’re playing in the MCLA (Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association) or Division I. Nothing is different, the only thing we’re concerned about is who we are right now,” Holman said. “I haven’t coached this team any different than if I stepped into it and we were already a Division I program.”

Neeleman believes that the season won’t be any sort of "farewell tour" for Utah as it winds down its days as a club sport, but that it’s “business as usual” for the 2018 season.

“We are pushing ourselves as hard as we can, as if we were a DI program," he said. "We try to have composure as if we were a DI program, we treat our opponents like they are DI talent, so we try our best to make it as if we’re already at the DI level."

In 2019, the Utes will join Air Force and Denver as the only universities with Division I lacrosse west of the Mississippi, something that Holman sees lots of benefits in, especially in the recruiting process.

“Benefits are, we’re a Power 5 school. Besides the ACC and the Big Ten, there’s not another school of our caliber with what we can offer academically and socially, and football and basketball, so that’s a huge, huge selling point for us — especially for the kids all over the country,” Holman said. “We have kids coming from 18 different states next year, so we think that’s an advantage.

All in all, Holman said that the Utes offer an attractive product to athletes, especially athletes from the West.

“We’re a Power 5 school, we’re great academically, we offer a great product to the kids. If a kid is in California and wants to go to a big school and wants to enjoy big-time lacrosse, he doesn’t have to go all the way back East, he can be a little bit closer to home,” he said.

Holman also doesn’t believe that there are any disadvantages in being the farthest west team in Division I lacrosse.

“Disadvantages? I don’t think there are any. There’s only disadvantages if you make them disadvantages, so I don’t believe we have anything in front of us that I would consider a disadvantage,” Holman said.

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Feb 21

Women started the first collegiate basketball in Utah and even beat the men

What are the beginnings of college and prep basketball in Utah? They aren't likely what you might think. But the University of Utah women's basketball team has a legendary heritage, though it's obscure and intermittent.

Utah collegiate women not only started hoop play in the Beehive State in the late 1800s, but likely played some of the first public hoops — if not the first-ever such games — in the Western United States.

"University Basket-Ball. Girls Defeat the Boys in the First Open Game" was a May 16, 1897, headline in the Salt Lake Tribune.

The story reported that in the premiere game played on the new outdoor field at the University of Utah, the women's squad beat the men's team by a score of 8-6.

The women started timidly in the game, but soon took command, according to the story. The field was reported to be too dusty and soft "for pleasurable playing," though it had now been improved. The new playing field was on the north side of the campus and shaded by large willow trees in the afternoon.

The first report on women's basketball in the Deseret News was likely printed on Jan. 19, 1900, when the Lowell school girls team soundly defeated the Salt Lake High School girls team (forerunner to West High School), 16-2.

Apparently, boys didn't think basketball was a manly enough sport in the early years.

For example, back when BYU was Brigham Young Academy (before 1903), only women played hoops there. A photograph in the "Encyclopedia of Mormonism" in the sports entry shows the women's team that won the Brigham Young championship in 1900. The coach was a man and there were seven female players, all clad in long dresses.

The women of early basketball in Utah all played wearing very long and baggy dresses. An illustration in the April 18, 1897, Salt Lake Tribune also shows the University of Utah girls team wearing similar long dresses. That story referred to "basket-ball" as a "mild rival of football" and said that Utah State College in Logan, as well as Rowland Hall, the Mutual Improvement League (LDS Church sponsored team) and the YWCA had all organized girls hoops teams.

Several months later, in a June 4, 1897, Tribune report on "basket-ball," the drawings of girl players at the U. of U. showed more streamlined dresses (yet still very loose fitting) that only went to the knees.

That report also said that a public game by University of Utah and league teams was the "first contest of the kind ever played west of Chicago."

The U. of U. women's team won that game 8-3 over the Mutual Improvement League. Jean Hyde, captain and center of the U. team, led all scorers with four points. There was also some controversy in the game when Miss Hafen of the Mutual team tried to talk to one of the umpires about so many uncalled fouls for the opposing team. (The game featured two umpires and a referee.) She was warned that to do so again would result in a foul. (Strangely, the drawing of the referee also showed him carrying a long stick.) Coach of the U. of U. team was Elmer Qualtrough.

A Salt Lake Herald newspaper story of May 17, 1897, credited Miss Lucile Hewitt as being the U. of U. student who petitioned the Athletic Association at the school to let her women's team play, with co-education being a key concept in the early years of basketball teams.

That same story mentioned that one player had sustained a broken nose during basketball play, though the story characterized the game as "exercise, simple and pure, vigorous and real."

Privacy of women's basketball was also a key early concern, at least for prep play.

"Basket-ball maidens. The elusive sphere chased behind closed doors" was a Nov. 6, 1897, headline in a Salt Lake Tribune report. The story said that the front doors of the market, where the Salt Lake High junior girls practiced, was locked, so that no males would see them play. And a sign on the door stated, "No spectators allowed," so that "their gyrations should not be observed by any odious males." (The girls team did have a male coach, though.)

Sadly, women's competitive basketball play didn't last long in the early years of the 20th century, partially because boys' play soon became very popular and pushed the girls aside. It was also likely that in that past era, some felt it inappropriate for girls and women to be playing so competitively. However, many decades later, with the advent of Title IX in the 1970s, girls and women's basketball teams in both high school and colleges eventually returned in force.

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Feb 21

U. coach Krystkowiak still ‘boring,’ not wanting to look too far ahead despite team’s recent hot streak

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Utes are the hottest basketball team in the Pac-12 Conference, having won seven of their last nine to move into fourth place in the league standings at 9-6.

With three home games left, including a pair this weekend against the two teams directly ahead of them in the standings at 10-5, UCLA and USC, the Utes have a chance to move up even further in the standings to perhaps as high as second place.

Still, U. coach Larry Krystkowiak isn’t budging from his one-game-at-a-time stance as he looks ahead to March.

“I’m just going to bore you to death,” he said in response to a question about the last two weeks of the regular season.

“It gets a little more clear the closer you get to finishing your 18th game in conference — there’s less variables,” he said. “What I do know is that we’ve put ourselves in position to control our own destiny. If we take care of business we’ll be in the top four. It’s not like we’re depending on a bunch of other things happening. That’s become clear. But beyond that, it’s the same old boring answer I had last week and two weeks ago.”

With wins over UCLA Thursday and USC Saturday afternoon, the Utes would come out of the weekend no worse than a tie for second place at 11-5 and they could be alone, depending on how the Bruins and Trojans fare at Colorado.

Then the following weekend one of the two L.A. schools would have to lose as they play each other at USC’s Galen Center. With a win over Colorado at home, the Utes would finish no worse than a tie for second place.

As for catching Arizona, that will be tough as the Wildcats, who are 11-5, have games left against two of the league’s worst teams — Oregon State this week and Cal next week as well as Oregon and Stanford.

RED-HOT COLLETTE: Ute senior center David Collette has been on an amazing tear of late, having made 26 of his last 31 field goal attempts (83.9 percent) during Utah’s four-game winning streak. Because of a slow start, he’s only at 63.9 percent in league games, which is still second in the conference. In all games, he’s fourth in field goal percentage at 61.8 percent.

When asked about his torrid pace of late, the former Murray High product deflected the credit.

“They go in a lot easier when you dunk them,” he said. “It’s a credit to the guards, They’re penetrating and drawing the (defense) and I just have the easier part of finishing the basket off.”

HAY'S IN THE BARN: Every year, Krystkowiak starts the season by putting numbers in each of the top corners of a board in the team room. The number on the left is the number of days until the final day of the Pac-12 tournament and the number on the right is the number of team victories.

It’s taken until this week for the number on the right to overtake the number on the left, which started at around 130 back in October. The Utes have 17 victories on the season, and the day of the UCLA game they’ll have just 16 games left.

“It’s all coming to a close,” said the Ute coach. “We’re just a few days away from some March Madness. So it’s time to get some hay in the barn.”

UTE NOTES: Game times this week are 7 p.m. Thursday and 12:30 p.m. Saturday. … The regular season concludes the following Saturday with a 5 p.m. game against Colorado. … Guard Justin Bibbins is probably Utah’s best bet for all-Pac-12 honors as he ranks first in league games in 3-pointers made, second in free-throw percentage, third in assist-to-turnover ratio, sixth in 3-point percentage and sixth in assists. … Utah leads the league in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.

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Feb 19

No. 3 Utah gymnastics team knocks off No. 2 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion

LOS ANGELES — The No. 3 Utah gymnasts kept their cool in sunny Los Angeles, knocking off No. 2 UCLA 197.550-197.425 before a raucous crowd of 11,085 in Pauley Pavilion. It was Utah’s first win in Pauley since 2008. Fittingly, given these two teams’ history, the meet came down to the final event.

Trailing by 0.150 at the midway point, the Utes moved into a tie with the Bruins on the third event with an outstanding 49.550 performance on the floor exercise highlighted by a near-perfect 9.975 from MyKayla Skinner. And then, with the meet on the line, all six Utes attacked their routines on the balance beam — tying their best score of the season with a 49.400—to surge past UCLA and clinch the win.

Skinner led a parade of Utah all-arounders in the top three, scoring a 39.625 to win her fifth all-around of the season, with MaKenna Merrell-Giles (39.525) and Kari Lee (39.500) close behind in second and third. It was a career all-around high for Lee.

Skinner also won or tied for first in three of the four individual events, scoring a 9.975 on floor, a 9.95 on vault and a 9.925 on beam. But this was a team effort all the way around.

“You could feel the pressure on both teams in this great environment,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden. “Both of us showed uncharacteristic nerves at the beginning of the meet. But we settled down (in the second half) and that beam was maybe the best we have done all year. Our beam workers stayed in their element under intense pressure and we continue to show just a ton of tenacity.”

The meet was close from the outset with UCLA leading by .015 after one rotation and an identical margin after round two.

Merrell-Giles and Kim Tessen both produced 9.90 bar routines to lead Utah to a 49.300 on the first event. For Merrell-Giles, it was a career high. Uncharacteristically, Skinner had the low score after a little too much pop on her mount.

Tessen and Merrell-Giles then had some unusual mistakes on vault, where Tessen fell and Merrell-Giles struggled on her landing. However, Kari Lee (9.90) and Skinner (9.95) both had season-high vault scores to keep Utah in the hunt. After three events, UCLA led 98.750-98.600.

A big 49.550 floor performance shoved the Utes into a tie for the first time of the meet with both teams at 148.150. Skinner came oh-so-close to a 10.0 on floor, scoring a 9.975. Almost as good were Merrell-Giles and Missy Reinstadtler, who both scored 9.925s, while Lee added a 9.90.

Under incredible pressure on the final event, Utah’s six competitors did walk-through routines, starting with a 9.775 from Maddy Stover. The rest of the way, it was Merrell-Giles (9.925), Alexia Burch (9.850), Lee (9.875), Reinstadtler (9.825) and Skinner (9.925).

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Feb 19

Utes return home with a promising opportunity

PULLMAN, Wash. — Opportunity is knocking for the Utah Utes. In fact, it’s pretty much kicking the door as well.

After Saturday’s 77-70 victory at Washington State, Utah is in prime position to earn a first-round bye in next month’s Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. The Utes (17-9, 9-6), winners of four straight games, remain in sole possession of the fourth and final pass into the quarterfinals.

Then there’s the remaining schedule. Utah’s final three games are in the Huntsman Center. This week, UCLA and USC come to town. The Utes are just one game back of both teams, who are tied for second, in the standings.

“We’re excited for next week,” said senior forward Tyler Rawson, who noted similar feelings for the road sweep over the Washington schools. “It’s hard to win in the Pac-12. So we’re excited here. We’re going to recover this weekend and then we’ll be ready to tackle it next week for the L.A. schools.”

Rawson was certainly prepared for the Cougars. He wound up with 15 points and 15 rebounds as the Utes extended their win streak to four games and capped their Pac-12 road record with a 5-4 mark.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, though, noted that the latter won’t amount to anything if the Utes don’t take care of business at home.

Following a road sweep of the Oregon schools in January, Krystkowiak said they performed poorly in trying to defend their home court against Arizona State and Arizona.

“So we’re not a team that can pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve accomplished on the road,” Krystkowiak said. “All that goes out the window if you can’t protect your home court. So that’s where our focus lies.”

Utah is in control of its own situation. Besides the games against UCLA and USC, the Utes host Colorado (March 3).

“The days are ticking down and we’ve got to be ready to go,” said Krystkowiak, who insists the approach is on the next task at hand and not the grouping of games.

The “home” stretch comes on the heels of a solid performance at Washington State. Despite being without contributors Sedrick Barefield (apparent rib cage injury) and Jayce Johnson (foot injury), Utah jumped out to a 33-13 lead and held on to prevail.

Justin Bibbins scored a game-high 24 points and Gabe Bealer added 18, making six of the Utes’ 12 shots from 3-point range.

“The only thing I’m not really pleased about is the number of offensive rebounds that (Washington State) had,” Krystkowiak said of the 15 second-chance opportunities the Cougars had. “That was really our Achilles heel and that’s something that we need to focus on if we want to get where we want to be at the end of this season.”

Krystkowiak acknowledged that “more and more” the Utes are understanding that “when you play defense you can be in a lot of games.”

Washington State shot just 36.1 percent (22 of 61) against the Utes. However, the Cougars did connect on 10 shots from 3-point range during their second-half narrowing of the deficit.

“When our defense wasn’t working we were playing defense by scoring on offense,” said Rawson, who added that the Utes did make some clutch stops when their lead was cut to four twice down the stretch.

Bealer agreed.

“I think at the end it came down to some of those turnovers,” he said.

As for his success from 3-point range, Bealer explained it was just a matter of letting it fly.

“I just go out there and hoop,” said the senior.

Email: Twitter: @DirkFacer

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Feb 19

Utes turn it on in 2nd half, defeat Washington 81-46 on Senior Night

SALT LAKE CITY — It was a tale of two halves for the University of Utah women’s basketball team (17-10, 8-8) in its 81-46 victory over the Washington Huskies (7-20, 1-15) Sunday afternoon at the Huntsman Center.

The first half was littered with Utah turnovers, allowing the last-place Huskies to keep it close.

The second half was all Utah as the Utes got the victory for their seniors in their home finale.

According to senior Emily Potter, who finished with an 18-point, 16-rebound double-double, the Huskies’ defensive energy was troublesome to start the game, but the Utes finished the game on a strong note.

“How we played in the third and fourth quarter, that’s how we can play. That’s what we want to do every time we step on the court.”

Despite a large shooting percentage differential in the opening quarter, the Utes led just 15-10 at the end of the period. Utah committed seven turnovers in the quarter, allowing eight points off the miscues.

The rim closed up for Utah in the second as the Utes managed just nine points on 3-of-9 shooting. For nearly six minutes, the Utes’ offense was held scoreless as the two teams went back and forth, exchanging the lead four times. Even though the Utes committed 13 turnovers in the half, allowing 12 points off the errors, they took a 24-23 lead into the break.

“We just weren’t playing with any sort of passion or enthusiasm,” said head coach Lynne Roberts. “We were trying to make home run plays. … I don’t know what we were doing.”

The Utes looked like a completely different team to open the second half, breaking the game open by outscoring Washington 37-6. At one point, the Utes made nine straight field goals to more than double their score in that quarter alone. From the field in the third, they shot 14 for 18, including 5 for 5 from 3-point land. Perhaps most impressive, they committed just one turnover during the scoring onslaught. By the time the quarter ended, the Utes held a commanding 61-29 lead.

“We regrouped,” explained Roberts. “I thought we did a really good job in the third quarter, we weren’t fouling, we weren’t turning it over and that allowed the game to be more up-tempo and we were able to blow it open there.”

Freshman Tori Williams was especially hot for the Utes, scoring a career-high 29 points on 11-of-13 shooting, including 7 of 9 from beyond the arc.

“I just knew my teammates had confidence in me and I knew it was Senior Night, so I knew the seniors had to have a good night to end and play the last time at the Huntsman Center,” said Williams.

In the final quarter, Utah coasted to the victory while continuing to take care of the basketball. In the second half, the Utes committed just four turnovers. Unfortunately for Utah, leading scorer Megan Huff went down with an sprained ankle in the final minute of action. Roberts said she wasn’t certain of the extent of the injury, or whether Huff will miss any time.

Following the contest, the Utes honored their four departing seniors, Emily Potter, Tanaeya BoClair, Tilar Clark and Wendy Anae. For Roberts, getting the victory on Senior Day was especially sweet.

“It’s great. It’s really nice. I’m proud of those seniors. They’ve had a great impact on the program. I always tell the players that how you know if you’ve done your job is if you leave the program in better shape than you found it. They have.”

The Utes will next travel to Los Angeles to face USC Thursday night and then UCLA in the regular season finale Saturday afternoon. The Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament will tip off March 1 at Key Arena in Seattle.

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Feb 18

Utah notebook: Utes post winning Pac-12 road record

PULLMAN, Wash. — For the third time in four seasons, Utah has posted a winning road record in Pac-12 play. Saturday’s 77-70 victory at Washington State clinched it. The Utes, who finish the campaign with three home games, went 5-4 in conference contests away from the Huntsman Center this year— matching similar marks in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

“It’s not easy to win on the road anywhere, particularly in our conference,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who noted some of the challenges. “So I’m pleased with our ability to focus when we’ve gotten on the road. I think we get together. We’ve got a good group of guys that enjoy traveling and our coaching staff, our assistants are as good as anybody in the country getting our team ready to play. It’s unbelievably beneficial for me to know that we’re going to be prepared.”

That said, Krystkowiak knows the road record doesn’t mean anything if the Utes don’t take care of business at home. They host UCLA, USC and Colorado before next month’s Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.

Utah struggled early in its Pac-12 membership, going 3-24 on the road over its first three seasons (2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14). A year ago, the Utes were 4-5 away from home in conference action.

SIDELINED UTES: Starting guard Sedrick Barefield suffered a rib cage injury during warm-ups and wound up logging just four minutes after shooting an air ball in his only shot attempt ... Center Jayce Johnson did not play because of a foot injury. It’s the first game that the 7-foot sophomore has missed since the UCLA game on Jan. 11.

EXTRA STUFF: The attendance was 2,924 ... Malachi Flynn scored 20 points for Washington State ... Parker Van Dyke had a game-high five assists for Utah ... The Cougars fell to 10-16 overall and 2-12 in Pac-12 play with the setback ... Krystkowiak was especially displeased that the Utes gave up 15 offensive rebounds ... Utah shot 38.7 percent in the second half.

Email: Twitter: @DirkFacer

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Feb 18

Utah basketball sweeps Washington trip with a win over the Cougars

PULLMAN, Wash. — Utah earned another Pac-12 road sweep with a 77-70 win at Washington State. The broom, as it where, was only used off-and-on before a sparse crowd at Beasley Coliseum.

It was hardly Quidditch on “Harry Potter Night” at the arena, even if did kind of start out that way — at least for the Utes.

After three lead changes and one tie, Utah pulled away with a 17-0 outburst to take a commanding 33-13 advantage in the first half. It proved to be more than enough to withstand a late charge by Washington State.

“I know it was a nice stretch. We did a good job of executing some man offense, shared the ball really well — a couple of loose balls went our way,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “It was really perfect and then we ran into the 1-3-1 half court trap and things kind of came to a screeching halt.”

Krystkowiak gave Washington State coach Ernie Kent credit for switching things up.

“It’s a curveball and we didn’t adjust very well,” Krystkowiak continued. “(But) we had enough poise in the second half to get through it.”

Justin Bibbins finished with a game-high 24 points as the Utes prevailed on the road again, two nights after topping Washington in Seattle. Gabe Bealer added 18 points and Tyler Rawson posted a double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds as the Utes won their fourth consecutive game overall.

“It was a great win for us,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s hard to win on the road, extremely hard to win on the road.”

Five Utes scored during the decisive early stretch. Bealer and Bibbins fueled the offense with six and five points, respectively. The defense, meanwhile, held Washington State scoreless for more than six minutes. The Cougars, in fact, managed just two free throws over a drought of nearly seven minutes without a field goal.

Washington State, though, managed to get on track and cut Utah’s lead to 35-28 in the final minute of the half.

The Utes responded with their eighth 3-pointer before the break — and third by Rawson — to lead by 10 at the intermission,

Rawson had a team-high 11 points in the opening half. Bealer, who also made three early 3-point shots, and Bibbins had nine apiece. Utah shot 53.8 percent (14 of 26) from the field, while Washington State managed just 28.6 percent (8 of 28) accuracy.

In the second half, the Cougars clawed back into contention and closed the gap to four twice in the final 1:43. The Utes held on with Bibbins scored four points and Parker Van Dyke adding a free throw in a 5-2 burst over the last 26 seconds.

“The first half, we definitely went on a run. We made a lot of shots. A lot of them were wide open and we were able to find the gaps in their zone,” Rawson said. “And for the second half, it was a heavyweight battle. It felt like at times our defenses were b both just locked down and then towards the end we were trading punches of making baskets.”

Rawson explained that it was necessarily a “hold on” for the Utes, but rather locking down the defense — knowing the offense would present itself.

Utah (17-9, 9-6) returns to the Huntsman Center for the final three games of the regular season. The Utes host UCLA on Thursday, USC on Saturday, and Colorado on March 3. They’re currently in position for a top four finish and a first-round bye in the upcoming Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.

Email: Twitter: @DirkFacer

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Feb 18

3 keys to Utah basketball’s 77-70 win at Washington State

PULLMAN, Wash. — Utah built a sizable lead and fended off every Washington State comeback attempt in beating the Cougars 77-70 Saturday night at Beasley Coliseum.

Turning point: After Washington State cut a once 20-point deficit to four at 72-68 late in the game, the Cougars' Malachi Flynn was called for an offensive foul with 55 seconds to play. Justin Bibbins then hit a fadeaway jumper with 26 seconds remaining to make it a six-point game and Utah held on.

The hero: Bibbins led the Utes with 24 points, shooting 7 of 15 from the field with two 3-pointers, and added four assists, one rebound and a steal. Gabe Bealer added 18 points, all on six 3-pointers.

3 keys

  • The Utes hit 12 of 31 3-pointers, including eight in the first half, while Washington State made 15 of 41 from long range to battle its way back in the game.
  • Utah outscored the Cougars 23-11 in points off turnovers, despite turning the ball over one more time (12-11) than Washington State.
  • The Utes went on a 17-0 run to build a 33-13 first-half lead, while Washington State answered with a 15-2 run to cut it back to a seven-point game in a contest that featured several runs.
Utah almanac: 17-9, 9-6 Pac-12, Won 4

Next 3

Thursday, vs. UCLA (18-8, 9-5), 7 p.m. MST (ESPN)

Saturday, Feb. 24, vs. USC (18-9, 9-5), 12:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

Saturday, March 3, vs. Colorado (15-12, 7-8), 5 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

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Feb 18

Utah gymnastics: Maddy Stover thriving in role as ‘team mom’

SALT LAKE CITY — Having spent the majority of the season within the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center, as four of their six completed meets have been at home, the No. 3 Red Rocks are about to embark on the most difficult stretch of their season.

Starting with this weekends meet at UCLA, set for 6 p.m. Sunday evening, Utah will go 29 days without competing in front of their home fans.

That nearly monthlong stretch includes meets against the No. 2 Bruins, No. 23 California Bears and No. 6 Michigan Wolverines.

With such a challenging schedule ahead, the Red Rocks will need to be at their best in order to maintain their standing as one of the elite gymnastics teams in the country, none more so than MyKayla Skinner.

The star sophomore had struggled, by her ridiculous standards, in the weeks leading up to last weekend's victory over Arizona State, but that all changed against the Sun Devils.

Skinner was elite in every event, winning the all-around title with a 39.675. Her performance was good enough to earn her the honor of Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week, her third such award this season, which also doubled as the record-breaking 10th of her career.

She attributed the turnaround to a change in her mindset, noting “I had such a successful season last year and I have just been really hard on myself. There is no need for that. I can do just as good without putting that pressure on. I felt like I really did that this last week. I just enjoyed the moment.”

Helping Skinner come to said realization was Maddy Stover.

“Maddy has been talking to me about that,” said Skinner. “I was at practice one day and she was like, ‘Mikki, come talk to me’. She talked to me for about five minutes and gave me some good tips. She has been there telling me to go and relax. Eventually, I will probably have to be a leader of the team, and Maddy has been reminding me I need to just enjoy the moment.”

Those familiar with the Red Rocks know that that is just who Stover is. An All-American, co-captain and member of the leadership council, she is anything and everything her teammates need.

“I can’t say enough about (Maddy),” said Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden. “She has her fingers in so many facets that are helping our program. It is really quite amazing.”

Rather than go to their coaches, the Red Rocks often turn to Stover when they have issues, problems or concerns of any kind.

“Maddy has good trust with the girls,” said Marsden. “They go to her. She’ll try to work on it with them and than try to manage it in a mature way. That makes our life (as coaches) easier a lot of times.”

“I think it is kind of a natural thing for me,’ said Stover. “They all call me the mom of the team. I think I really embodied it once I was kind of pulled away from all I could do out on the floor, just due to injuries and arthritis and whatever, the laundry list.”

Being the Red Rocks support system hasn’t been easy for Stover, however. A competitive and elite collegiate gymnast in her own right, she struggled with her ailments and the effect they had on her ability to be a gymnast. It wasn’t until this year, her senior season, that she really accepted her role.

“I think I was able to see that role impact my team in a positive way and with it being my last year I just decided to kind of embody that,” said Stover. “I am at peace with it and hope it has been helpful to this team.”

The Red Rocks will need Stover, the "mom" and the gymnast, as well as Skinner, among others, if they are to compete with the Bruins Sunday.

UCLA comes into the meet having posted its highest team score of the season, a 197.750, on Feb. 10 against California. The Bruins' depth was on full display in the win, as they scored a 49.400 or better on vault, floor and beam despite only one gymnast, freshman Nia Dennis, competing on more than two events.


No. 3 Utah (197.292) at

No. 2 UCLA (197.346)

Sunday, 6 p.m. MDT

Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: None

Online: Official live scores:

Live Utah commentary and scores:

EMAIL: TWITTER: @trentdwood

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Feb 17

Lynne Roberts gets win No. 50 as Utes move past Washington State, 54-50

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah women’s basketball team bewitched Washington State with strong post play en route to a 54-50 victory over the Cougars Friday night at the Huntsman Center. It was Harry Potter Night at the arena, and Emily Potter — no relation to the fictional wizard prodigy — was magical in her second-to-last home game as a Ute, finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds.

It was a contest of contrasting styles in the Utes’ penultimate home game. Utah dominated the inside game, outscoring Washington State 32-14 in the paint. The Cougars, to their credit, controlled the perimeter, scoring on seven 3-pointers, as opposed to two by Utah.

“I was confident in our post play," said Utah head coach Lynne Roberts. "I thought that that was where we could win it. … I think going in, the stuff we worked on was trying to get our post involved.”

Despite outshooting the Cougars by a large margin in the first quarter, the Utes led just 18-10 after the first quarter. Potter led the way in the opening period with eight points on perfect 3-for-3 shooting from the field and a pair of free throws. Leading scorer Megan Huff also turned in a strong first quarter with six points on 3-for-5 shooting.

“I thought Potter set the tone for us in that first quarter,” said Roberts. “She had one of the best starts to a game that she’s had in a really long time. That was great to see.”

Utah suffered a drought to open the second quarter, failing to score until the 6:43 mark. Potter and Huff were both held scoreless for the entire period. Meanwhile, the Cougars were heating up, hitting on 5-of-7 shots from 3-point land. And yet, the Utes managed to hold the lead for the entire quarter and took a 31-25 lead into the break, with help from a buzzer-beating lay-in by Erika Bean.

“We kind of got away from the game plan, they hit six (3-pointers) in the first half, which is poor for us, good for them,” said Roberts.

Both teams continued to struggle in the third. Utah put up just nine points in the quarter, but the Cougars failed to take advantage of the slow play. Going into the final period, the Utes held a 40-37 lead.

Washington State nearly stole the lead on several occasions in the final quarter, trailing by just one at several points. Still, the Utes held tough and kept control of the game thanks to crucial made free throws in crunch time.

The win was 50th career victory at Utah for Roberts, who had no idea that she had reached the milestone.

“That’s great,” said Roberts, who is in her third season as head coach. “I’m happy we won. It feels good to get win 16 this year and to win at home.”

Roberts admitted that the victory "wasn’t pretty, but who cares."

“At this point, it’s February 16th, it’s about just finding a way and moving on.”

The Utes will next face Washington Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Huntsman Center. Following the game, the team will honor their four departing seniors: Potter, Tanaeya BoClair, Tilar Clark and Wendy Anae for Senior Night.

For Potter, it’s going to be an emotional game.

“It feels weird,” said Potter, Utah’s all-time leader in blocked shots. “I’ve been here for a while, it’s my fifth year here. I’m excited to play in the Huntsman for the last time.”

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