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January 21, 2012Utah got off to a fast start Saturday against Arizona State and cruised to a 64-43 win over the Sun Devils. The Utes came out firing out of the gate, with Chris Hines and Cedric Martin getting hot from outside as Utah (5-14, 2-5) jumped out to a 10-0 lead Saturday before an energized Jon M. Huntsman crowd.
The hot shooting continued throughout the first half, not much different than in Thursday's loss to Arizona, where the Utes hung right with the Wildcats for the first half. Saturday was different, however, on a rare night where the ball bounced the Utes' way most of the night, Utah continued to shoot the ball well in the second half, and was aggressive on the boards, out-rebounding the Sun Devils by a 29 - 24 margin.
Utah also made the most of its possessions, and played something approaching tenacious defense for most of the contest, holding Arizona State to 38.6% shooting on the night, well under their 48.6% average on the road. Utah's defense also held the Arizona State offense to its lowest point total of the season, with just 43 points.
Arizona State has suffered a similar fate to Utah's of late, losing its leading scorer Trent Lockett to an ankle injury, and having personnel issues leading to dismissals throughout the course of the season. In fact, Arizona State is one of just nine teams nationally to not have a single senior on the roster this season.
Even still, Utah has battled many of the same issues, but on Saturday took a turn for the better through its turmoil and adversity.
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak beamed about his team's victory, crediting defensive energy for the offensive output his team displayed Saturday.
"It was an awful lot of fun. We placed a lot of emphasis on our defense, and the funny thing happened when we did a really good job of defending them, and taking away some of their options was that the rim became about three times bigger than it has been recently for us," said Krystkowiak.
Junior Cedric Martin led the way scoring with 17 points - 15 coming from beyond three-point range. Junior guard Chris Hines chipped in 14 points of his own. Center Jason Washburn had another strong outing, adding 10 points and tallied just five rebounds, but was active in the paint, giving his teammates more possessions by tipping the ball out of traffic.
With many positives, the Ute elder statesmen quickly and unhesitatingly credited true freshman and new starting point guard Kareem Storey, who added 12 points, six assists to one turnover, with the win, and for their own offensive successes. In the absence of former starting point guard and team leading scorer Josh Watkins, who was dismissed from the team earlier this week, all eyes, as well as pressure have been on Storey to fill the gap left by Watkins. In two games, it seems that Storey has responded well to the pressure, averaging 10 ppg and 6 assists per game after taking over the starting role.
"We needed Kareem [Storey] to step up. At first, he was kind of skeptical of making a mistake," explained Cedric Martin. "But we got him in the mindset of if you make a mistake, you move on to the next. [When he did that], he basically filled a spot on this team. [Kareem] made us a better team today."
"It was all due to Kareem [Storey]. Kareem got into the gap and threw it out," continued Martin. "We were in the gym, me and Chris [Hines], before the game putting up shots, and they fell in the game."
"Kareem [Storey] was in there making a lot of plays. I didn't feel like I had to offensive rebound, just because [the shots] were dropping like that," explained center Jason Washburn. "It was just a good, team effort all around."
Krystkowiak acknowledged that Storey's statistics were exactly the type of output the Utes are looking for out of their point guard position.
"Kareem, as a freshman, with his six assists and just one turnover, that's the kind of ratio we're looking for," Krystkowiak credited. "He did a great job running the show for us."
In its second conference win, and first big win of the season, Utah shot 9-17 (52.9%) from three-point range, and 52.5% from the field. The Utes shot 13-19 (68.4%) from the free thrown line, somewhat short of the Utes' every game goal of 75%. Another goal for the Utes was 10 or less turnovers, which the Utes accomplished, finishing with 10 for the game.
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak was not surprised by his team's offensive performance Saturday, as he noticed an attitude prevalent in his team as early as Friday's practice, which carried over to the pre-game shoot-around.
"I thought we were really focused at practice yesterday and I could tell when I walked into shoot-around this morning that we had some focus," revealed Krystkowiak. "It was kind of reminiscent of the BYU game, which we didn't win, but you could just tell that guys were a little more quiet, and reserved, more dialed in."
Arizona State (6 - 13, 2 - 5) finds itself in a log-jam near the bottom of Pac-12 standings, along with 2-4 Washington State, 2-5 Oregon State and 2-5 Utah. UCLA is just a game ahead at 3-4 in conference play, with USC holding out as the only Pac-12 team still without a conference win.
With a positive taste in its mouth, Utah will next make a road swing to the greater Los Angeles area, with a road game versus UCLA on January 26 and USC on January 28 before coming home to host Oregon on February 2 and Oregon State on February 4.
While the team will undoubtedly enjoy the win, with a day off Sunday before returning to practice Monday, Krystkowiak cautioned at the end of post-game comments what is becoming a well-known mantra for him. "You're never as good as you think you are, and never as bad as you think you are," he said.