Utah-Washington St. Preview
(AP) - Utah point guard Brandon Taylor woke up Sunday morning and realized his nightmare was no bad dream. The Utes had spent the previous four months, not including the offseason, working toward a Pac-12 regular-season title and watched it slip through their fingers during an eight-minute span.
No. 13 Utah lost to then-No. 7 Arizona 63-57 on Saturday, despite leading by six with eight minutes remaining. A victory would have moved Utah (22-6, 12-4) into a tie with the Wildcats atop the conference standings. Now, Arizona will have to lose its two remaining games and Utah will have to win its final two in order for the Utes to get a share of the title.
''I couldn't get it out of my mind because I felt like the world had come to an end or something,'' Taylor said. ''I felt so heavy hearted. ... Even the next practice, you could just tell we weren't feeling as confident. We weren't feeling as good. We just weren't feeling like our normal self. Because that hurt us and dented us. But it is what it is.''
Utah finishes with road matchups against Washington State (12-16, 6-10) on Thursday night and Washington on Saturday. The only team with a conference record worse than those two is Southern California.
The Utes have done a good job of staying even keeled throughout the season. Both wins and losses have been put away quickly, but a second loss to Arizona hurt - especially with so much on the line. Coach Larry Krystkowiak reminded them that it wasn't the last game of the year and that other goals were still achievable.
''Guys would have been crushed if that was our last game,'' guard Delon Wright said.
Krystkowiak addressed the media with a poem this week: Dr. Seuss' ''Oh, The Places You'll Go.''
''Oh, the places you'll go! There is fun to be done!''
''There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.''
''And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.''
''Fame! You'll be as famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.''
The message was pretty self-explanatory - the world hasn't ended. The message was also needed. Both Taylor and Wright admitted there's a strange feeling not playing for first place anymore. Until the postseason begins, they're playing for seeding and to clean up mistakes.
The Utes were burned because of a lapse on fundamentals against Arizona. A missed box out. Missed layups. A lack of aggression.
''We need to get a lot sharper and we have a list of things to get dialed in,'' Krystkowiak said. ''We need to be more fluid on both ends of the floor. ... We put seven points on the board and one of them is `do the ordinary things extraordinarily well.' We have to get back to screening. Trying to score against Arizona, we were not being aggressive. If we don't improve there, we are going to flounder.
''We just need to get back to basics. It's training camp. You have three hours of fundamentals during a practice. ... I'm just glad we have games left because that could have been disastrous.''
The Utes need victories to keep the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament from Oregon. They also need to regain the air of dominance they previously had.
''Let's get on the court so we can snatch it back,'' Taylor said. ''It's definitely more let's get back on that court and get our mojo back.''
They'll get back on the court against a Cougars team that has dropped nine of 12 following Sunday's 72-67 defeat at UCLA. Leading scorer DaVonte Lacy had 19 points and hit three 3-pointers to give him 243 in his career, passing Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson for the school record.
Washington State lost 86-64 in Utah on Jan. 21 as Taylor and Wright combined for 35 points and 15 assists. The Utes, though, have lost both visits to Pullman since joining the Pac-12, including 49-46 last season.