It's rare that in the middle of a season a team will have nearly two weeks off in between games.
Despite the rarity, that's the exact situation the Utah finds itself in right now. After taking down Idaho 79-41 on Dec. 18 in what was the Utes' most complete game of the season, they'll finally return to the court on Thursday night when the face UCLA at Pauley Pavilion down in Los Angeles before facing USC on Saturday.
“There’s a concern for I think a lot of us as you head into USC, they’ve had some shutdown too, it doesn’t feel like it for me like we’ve had that much time off,” head coach Larry Kyrstkowiak told the media on Tuesday.
Utah was scheduled to face Arizona State down in Tempe but that game was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the program. But the extra down time actually might've proved to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed the players to go home for Christmas a few days early and spend some much needed time with family.
The team returned to the practice court in Salt Lake City on Saturday, and have been preparing for this weekend's games ever since.
“Guys got some individual workouts in, then we have had a good run of practices since the 26th of December, with some (other) stuff mixed in,” he said. “We know a lot of teams have similar circumstances so it is going to be about trying to get ourselves as prepared as possible and bring a little bit of dog to the fight. I think that might be one of the most important parts of the upcoming weekend.”
According to starter Mikael Jantunen, the time away from the team and at home was huge for them. It allowed them to get refocused on the tasks at hand while just being with their loved ones.
“It was just (about) reloading your batteries during Christmas, and then when we got back practicing everyone was super excited, and we went hard in practice for a couple of days,” he said. "I feel like the team is back where we left off from the Idaho game.”
The Utes have lost their past 10 true road games, contests to Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Oregon State, Oregon, Stanford and California all last season before being demolished by BYU this year.
But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will not be fans in attendance at either Pauley Pavilion or the Galen Rupp Center. The typically home crowd will not have the same sort of effect as it has the past few seasons, something Krystkowiak, Jantunen and the Utes are aware of.
“The fans are not going to affect the game at all,” Jantunen said. “It is going to be the team that plays the hardest and is ready to go from the tip. That’s the kind of the mentality we have to bring on the road, and that is something we may have missed last year.”
“For coaches and players, you are used to having a lot of fans, and without that, it probably (takes) a little bit away from the home team,” Krystkowiak added. “On the road, you have to overcome some of the arenas that we play in and some of the loudness and the energy. That’s a fun part of the game for the home team, typically.”
Want to share opinions or ask questions? We want to hear them! Making a profile is free and it only takes ~1 minute to set up. Also, be sure to like us on social media for future coverage: