In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Runnin’ Utes will take on the Fresno State Bulldogs on Thursday evening in the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.
The Utes are coming off of a 31-point loss in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship game, but they are confident they will be able to turn it around when it matters the most.
Point guard Brandon Taylor didn’t quite get over the loss until the Utes were officially placed into the tournament Sunday afternoon, and as a senior, he does not want that to be one of his last memories at Utah. Saturday’s loss motivates Taylor to perform at a higher level, and he has faith he can do just that.
“It was one of those that just put a nasty taste in your mouth,” Taylor said. “Making it to the championship, having a game like that is not a game I even envisioned it going, I don’t think none of us envisioned it going.”
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak is in the same boat as Taylor, but he needs his team to move on. Utah has its sights set on accomplishing as much as it can, for as long as it can.
The Utes have been working to clean up their game to make sure they don’t allow Fresno State easy points. They need to make every basket difficult and need their defense to be up to par, like it has been the majority of this season. They want to make sure they aren’t sent home again with another poor performance they wish they could take back.
“After you’re pummeled for 30 minutes in the game, that’s kind of the feeling you take home,” Krystkowiak said. “A lot of basketball mistakes. When you get an elite-level team like that or you get in the NCAA Tournament, there’s a lot of good players and a lot of great teams and coaches, and you have to take away the easy ones.”
Fresno State just won the Mountain West Conference Championship, but Taylor is confident the Utes can bring Fresno State down from its high. He’ll be locked in on defense and expects his teammates to be on the same page.
Not only does its defense need be ready, but Utah will need to be cautious on offense. Fresno State has plenty of players who can cause turnovers, but Taylor is sure the Utes will do a better job of taking care of the ball.
“They have a lot of athletes,” Taylor said. “They have perimeter four-men like we have perimeter four-men that can shoot it. They get out in the passing lanes. If you get sloppy, they capitalize on those mistakes, get out, get a lot of steals during the game.”
In the end, Krystkowiak has mentioned time and time again that March is his favorite time of year and to be involved in the tournament is something that he will always cherish. However, his team still needs to take care of business once the ball is in the air.
“It’s a privilege to be a part of March Madness,” Krystkowiak said. “If I only had a TV for a month, that TV rental would start tomorrow when the game’s kicked off, and then I’d want my ability to watch it until the Masters is over. To actually be a participant in it is pretty special for us.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 5:27 p.m. MT.