Runnin’ Utes Working On New Identity Without Delon Wright

MK2_9923 Emily Juchau

Although Utah struggled a bit to really come into its own at the beginning of the year without last season’s leader Delon Wright, head coach Larry Krystkowiak thinks the team is hitting its stride at just the right time. With Wright being such a focal point of the offense last year and him carrying a lot of the workload, this year’s players have had to step up in one way or another, and the transition hasn’t been as smooth as everyone hoped it would be.

“I think some of the offensive schemes and packages have been simplified,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s life after Delon. As much as you wanted to say, ‘This is how we’re going to play,’ it takes a while.”

No longer able to rely on Wright, the guys have needed to make adjustments on how to play more as a team. One of the team’s biggest focuses this year has been making that extra pass and, in doing so, hopefully taking higher percentage shots.

Toward the beginning of the year, the team struggled with this concept, but as of late, the Utes have really bought into the system. In the Utes’ last outing against USC, they had 23 assists on 30 made shots.

“Just because you have four starters back doesn’t mean you’re going to pick up where you left off,” Krystkowiak said. “Guys are moving the ball, we’re sharing it. Early on, I don’t know that it was the case. It may have been more about guys, not on a conscious level, but subconsciously, thinking that this was going to be easy.”

Plenty to work on

With all the improvements Krystkowiak has noticed in his team, he knows there are still areas that need work. With just three games left on the regular schedule, the team has been working on implementing new defensive schemes. Krystkowiak noticed the Utes still need to work on having better coverage guarding the pick-and-roll.

Something else the team will be working on is rebounding. There have been too many instances where opposing teams are given second, and even third, chances because the Utes failed to box out or haul in a rebound.

“Defense and rebounding have been our focus the last two weeks and will continue to be the focus,” Krystkowiak said. “Not much has changed in terms of putting our priorities in place.”

Priority is Arizona State

Saturday’s Arizona game may be the focus for a lot of Utah fans, but the Runnin’ Utes are concerned first and foremost about taking care of business against the Sun Devils two days earlier.

The Utes haven’t faced either team this season, so they will watch a lot of film on ASU to see what they can do against them and what they can do to stop the Sun Devils. While the main concern is Thursday night’s game, Krystkowiak sees a similar style of gameplay between the two Arizona schools, so in preparing for Arizona State, they may also be preparing for Arizona unintentionally.

“A lot of what Arizona State and Arizona do are similar,” Krystkowiak said. “Physical teams — athletic teams. Solid defensively and some similar things in pick-and-roll defense that we’re going to have to be ready for. It’s not like they’re two completely different opponents, so I think we can kill a few birds with one stone.”

Aside from this week’s slate of games and the Pac-12 tournament looming, Krystkowiak is confident the Utes will be able to stay focused and pay attention remaining games on the schedule.

“I don’t know that it’s big picture time,” Krystkowiak said. “The big focus for us is getting through the very next game.”

k.brenneisen@dailyutahchronicle.com

@kbrenneisen