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December 17, 2011Coach Larry Krystkowiak saw his team's defensive effort pay off with a second victory Friday night at the Huntsman Center after a tough eight game losing streak to start off a difficult season.
"Words can't even describe it," quipped an always emotional Jason Washburn of the Utes' first DI win. "It's a lot of emotion that's built up. It felt so good because of how we did it; a pure team effort. It just feels really good."
Granted, the 71-59 win was against an Idaho State Tigers team that was 2-7 coming in, but the Utes had but a sole victory themselves and will take what they can get.
What Utah needed, was a team win, more defensive effort and some acknowledgment from their home crowd.
They got all of that Friday night.
The question going forward will be how best to build on it from here as the Pac-12 schedule looms large in the very near future.
The energy inside the arena, which has been missing for some time, dating back to the rough patches of last season, played a big part in the team's energy, according to Krystkowiak and players. Post-game, Krystkowiak went out of his way to thank fans, and the community at large for showing up and making some noise for his struggling Utes.
"We still have a nice chunk of people coming out from this community watching us, and nobody's given up on us. To look up randomly and see that people are excited, that's really cool," said Krystkowiak. "There's a lot to be said for the people who haven't given up on us, and want to get this thing turned around. I think it was a big step moving forward tonight."
Junior college transfer Cedric Martin who was recruited for his outside shooting, finally caught fire and lit the scoreboard up with three pointers all night, finishing with 5-9 from long distance, and tossing in a career-high 19 points to lead all scorers.
According to Krystkowiak, Martin and several other Utes hit the gym for extra shooting practice this week, and loved that the extra time and effort paid off.
"It was fun watching shots go in tonight. I watched Cedric [Martin] make a lot of shots this week," observed Krystkowiak. "Those guys were putting in extra time, coming in and making a hundred free throw shots. Again, I think you get what you earn. The guys are going to see the ball going in, because they're playing harder."
"That's what shooting in the gym does for you. I was in the gym every day just making shots," Martin said of his week's practice. "Jiggy and Kareem, they attacked the paint, the defense collapsed, they passed it out to me, and it felt pretty good when I let it ride."
Martin and Krystkowiak both acknowledged the work done by assistant coaches Tommy Connor and Norm Parrish putting in a new offensive set for the game as being a huge key to the offensive output.
"We implemented some [new] plays that kind of got us into our rhythm, so that helped us a lot," said Martin.
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak was more specific in doling out credit.
"Coach Connor and Coach Parrish, this week had a really nice plan, I thought, for a zone offense. We added four or five plays that I thought we got some good looks [out of]," credited Krystkowiak. "The guys knew where the shots were coming from, so those guys deserve a lot of the credit on that, as a staff. Our guys locked in; they had to learn a bunch of zone sets. I thought that was the key to us shooting the ball as well as we did."
Shoot the ball the Utes did, finishing with a 48.9 field goal percentage; their highest of the season to this point. On the strength of Martin's 5-9 three point shooting, Utah shot 34.8% from long distance.
Another junior college transfer Dijon Farr also chipped in 16 points to go along with six rebounds in a surprising offensive outburst, and center Jason Washburn made his presence known with 13 points and six rebounds.
A different look in the Utes' eyes, especially after a win, versus a closer-than-expected-loss against rival BYU, existed post-game Friday, as the prospect of what-if flashed through their minds.
The idea of extra effort, and hustle paying off, and a team scoring, playing defense, rebounding in concert may yet be sinking in for the new Utes, who have struggled so mightily, even having to hear the phrase 'worst team ever' uttered in their general direction at times throughout the season.
"I think in that BYU game, we got a little taste of what it takes just to compete," explained Washburn.
Though little showed on the stat sheet, a key to the Ute win was the efforts of yet another junior college player Javon Dawson, whose hustle parlayed into extra possessions or second-chance shots on several occasions.
Under the current circumstances at Utah, it is crucial that the junior college players contribute early and heavily for any chance at even a decent season.
If Friday night is any indication, the new Utes are starting to get it.
"No doubt, [the Juco players], and even some of the younger guys are starting to catch on," observed Krystkowiak. "Most programs have the same situation with junior college guys. Some really good Juco guys around the country went to great programs, and they're not playing. So we depend on the guys that we have that joined us."
Josh Watkins, who had been the Utes' leading scorer had a seemingly quiet night, actually did what most have been wanting from his since he arrived at Utah, dishing out a season-high eight assists versus three points. Freshman point guard Kareem Storey also shared the ball well with six assists and seven points.
On the stat sheet, Utah was even with ISU in rebounds, both with 30 each. At one point in the game, Utah was being out-scored terribly in the paint, but Utah fought back to just a one point deficit; 30-31. Utah also converted 22 points off of turnovers, and shot 77.3% from the charity stripe, good for its second performance from the line all season.
Pleased with the win, and mostly the effort, which Krystkowiak ultimately credits for his team's turnaround, he is still realistic, knowing that there is still much work to be done.
"The old NBA saying goes, you're never as good as you think you are," Krystowiak said. "On the other side, you're never as bad as you think you are."
"I'm really happy for our guys," he concluded. "I am happy for the people who support our team."
Center Jason Washburn agreed.
"I love hearing the Huntsman Center like that. Those people out there come out, and support us," exclaimed Washburn. "The supported us through this really tough road, and they deserve this as much as we do."