Utah-Arizona St. Preview
Larry Krystkowiak had no choice but to look ahead four years ago when he took over a Utah program that was in shambles ahead of a move to the newly formed Pac-12.
Now he's trying to keep his eighth-ranked Utes grounded and focused.
Utah will look to remain perfect in conference play while winning a seventh straight game overall when it visits Arizona State on Thursday night.
Krystkowiak went 6-25 in 2011-12, but after 21 wins and an NIT berth last season he has Utah (13-2, 3-0) enjoying its highest ranking since finishing 1998-99 at No. 6.
The Utes' defeats came at then-No. 16 San Diego State on Nov. 18 and at then-No. 10 Kansas on Dec. 13 by a combined seven points, and they've won six straight by an average of 24.0 points since falling to the Jayhawks.
Brandon Taylor scored 14 points and Delon Wright added 13 in a 74-49 win over Colorado on Jan. 7 in Utah's most recent contest, but Krystkowiak isn't celebrating just yet.
"We are not going to be sneaking up on teams. We are going to get every team's best punch," he said. "I keep telling our guys it's a long season. There's still a lot of basketball to be played. I just want us to keep grinding and stay hungry, humble and after it."
While it may be tempting to look past the struggling Sun Devils (8-8, 0-3) and ahead to Saturday's showdown at No. 10 Arizona, Krystkowiak doesn't believe that will happen.
"There's no focus on Saturday," he said. "I am focused on ASU. They're dangerous and we are going to have to be focused on them."
Arizona State is off to its worst conference start since dropping its first 14 of 2006-07 - coach Herb Sendek's first season in Tempe. The Sun Devils, though, have won 16 of 17 at home and have won all three matchups there since the Utes joined the Pac-12.
They're 8-1 on their home floor this season, with the defeat coming in triple overtime against Lehigh on Dec. 20.
"The road is a different animal. That's why we scheduled the way we did in nonconference," Krystkowiak said. "I don't want road environments to shock our kids. We need to get stops and get out and running. Doing that on the road is the biggest challenge."
ASU played its first three conference games on the road, the latest a 59-56 loss to Oregon on Saturday. Shaquielle McKissic scored 18 points, but he missed two free throws with the Sun Devils down two with 11.6 seconds left and failed on a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
"I thought they really played the right way and put themselves in a position to win," Sendek said. "Perhaps it sounds like we're reveling in some sort of moral victory, and that's not the case at all. We wanted to win and not winning hurts a great deal."
Arizona State is fourth in the Pac-12 with a 45.2 shooting percentage - Utah is first at 50.1 - but it has hit just 37.6 percent in conference play.
The Utes are holding opponents to 36.4 percent shooting, ranking 10th in the nation.