If I told you that the next team on Stanford’s
schedule was 14-7 all-time against the Cardinal and hadn’t lost to Stanford in
almost 40 years, you’d probably be a little concerned.
And, had this
match-up taken place just five short years ago when Kevo was but a sophomore and
still breastfeeding from the sage knowledge of head manager Josh Johnson, you’d
have good reason to be concerned.
While this Stanford team is similar in
youth to the 2006-07 Trent Johnson squad, the opposition has had serious
regression pains and is in big time rebuilding mode.
It’s the Utah
Runnin’ Utes, Stanford’s hoop court foe on Thursday night and the newest member
of the Pac-12 by a few days.
It’s hard to imagine a team that has been
more behind the eight-ball than Utah, which in addition to joining a new
conference, had the not-so-envious position of having a brand spankin’ new
coaching staff. Larry Krystkowiak has the makings of being a very good head
coach in the Pac-12, but as all Cardinal fans know, success takes
And success is something that has been in very short supply for the
Runnin’ Utes this year. The non-conference was brutal to Utah - not brutal
in the sense of a tough schedule, just brutal: A 1-8 start that featured a
30-point loss at Fresno State immediately followed by a 31-point home defeat at
the hands of Cal State Fullerton. It wasn’t until their tenth game of the season
that Utah defeated a D-I school (Doug Oliver’s ex - the Idaho State Bengals on
The Pac-12 opener didn’t treat the Runnin’ Utes nicely,
either. How’s a 40-point loss at Colorado for starters?
But maybe, just
maybe…this team is starting to turn a corner. In all-black uniforms for the
first time in school history, the Runnin’ Utes won their Pac-12 home opener in
overtime against the Cougs from the Palouse. They followed it up with a
hard-fought four-point loss to Washington, a game in which they controlled tempo
from start to finish. In fact, at 4-11, Utah has gone 3-3 in their last six
after that horrendous start.
Nevertheless, the stats don’t look good for
Utah. Eleventh in the Pac-12 in scoring offense; 11th in scoring defense. Last
in the conference in rebounding margin. Their current position in the conference
standings at tied for eighth is actually their best ranking in any team
statistical category in the Pac-12.
On a national level, they don’t even
qualify for three-point field goal percentage because they don’t make the
minimum five per game, despite more than a third of their field goal attempts
coming from beyond the arc (27 percent three-ballin’ will do that to ya).
According to this Deseret News article (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700214196/Utah-Utes-basketball-notebook-Road-trip-features-familiar-faces-for-Larry-Krystkowiak.html),
only one of the 274 teams that qualify for three-point field goal percentage -
Rhode Island- has a lower shooting percentage from beyond the arc than the
But it’s not all doom and gloom for Utah, a team that can
be tough when they ignore the first part of their namesake. They held
Washington, a team full of athletes that like to play at breakneck speed, to
zero fast break points for the whole game. Granted, it’s a lot easier to control
tempo at home, but that’s still a very impressive stat. The contest against the
Huskies had the feel of a major underdog trying to survive from mandatory to
mandatory, and as the game went along, Utah gained more and more confidence,
started hitting more shots and put a real scare into the Dawgs before falling
just a tad short.
The main reason the Runnin’ Utes were able to hang
around in the Washington game and knock off the Cougars in OT was because of
their premier backcourt player, the one and only Josh Watkins. A short and
stocky guard, Watkins is fourth in the conference in scoring and second in the
Pac in dimes. He’s tough, he’s not bashful in taking it to the hoop and
he’s very cerebral. Knowing that teams scout him for his driving abilities,
Watkins used a pull-up jumper from about 15 feet to send the Cougar game into OT
and then hit the game-winning shot in the extra period with the pull-up with
three seconds left.
In the Washington game, two plays he made really
stood out. On the first, Watkins appeared to trip over Wroten while bringing the
ball over to the right wing but somehow saved it from going out of bounds and
calling a timeout before help could come over and tie him up. Not a play
that would make a highlight reel, but it highlights the smarts and wherewithal
Watkins has to keep his wits in a situation that could have very easily led to a
The second play was vintage New York point guard.
Unafraid of Aziz N’Diaye’s height, Watkins took it right into the body of the
seven-footer and got the layup to go, again showing off his headiness by
negating the shot blocker’s ability to do what he does best.
patrolling the perimeter, center Jason Washburn does the dirty deeds down low,
averaging almost seven rebounds per game. That rebounding rate is just about on
the one-rebound-per-four-minute pace Krystkowiak wants his posts to be at.
But probably the biggest feature of Washburn’s game is his low-post
offense. He has a very nice back to the basket game and utilized the baby
hook with success against the Huskies. Pretty good footwork for the kid, too.
Probably his biggest drawback is that he is a little slow (he got burned by
N’Diaye on at least one occasion) and his frame. His weight (244 L-Beezies)
might not seem very light, but he probably needs to put on a few more pounds to
make him stouter on the defensive end. Otherwise, the kid is pretty solid and
averages double figures.
Quick hitters on a couple of other Utes. Cedric Martin - watch out for this dude in the corner; leads the team in
three-point field goal efficiency at 38 percent. Dijon Farr- Mr. Hustle. Second
on the team in rebounds and tied for second in steals. Chris Hines - loves to
shoot. Dude’s got a quick trigger and isn’t afraid to take it to the trees down
low. Averages the second most shots per game on the team.
That’s more or
less the Runnin’ Utes starting five; it’s the group they used against both
On the surface, this one looks like it should be a
blowout with one of the top teams in the conference hosting the team that was
picked to finish last and has the worst overall record of anybody in the Pac-12.
I wouldn’t go that far, though. The Utes made huge defensive strides in their
first Pac-12 home stand and are at their best when it’s a half-court game,
seemingly just what Stanford likes (though after that thriller over Oregon State, maybe not). Also, guards have gone off against the Card in the past, and
Watkins certainly is capable of a big game.
That being said, I wouldn’t
expect Stanford to lose, nor would I expect it to be all that close. But I also
don’t expect to see a repeat of Stanford-Pacific or Colorado-Utah earlier this
year; however you want to spin it.
The last time Utah was 4-11 was the
1972-73 season, which was also the last time Stanford beat the Runnin’ Utes.
Will history repeat itself in Maples Pavilion on Thursday night? All signs point
to yes, but as Chris Berman loves to say, that’s why they play the
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