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The most important days leading to Utah's Pac-12 opener against Oregon may not be the actual days of practice or the intense preparation that will go into welcoming a top-10 team to the Huntsman Center next Thursday night.

No, the most critical stretch could be from Sunday to Thursday, when the players will all be at their respective homes, and when the individual Utes will be left to their own devices.

Even though Utah will play a game on Saturday against St. Katherine, Larry Krystkowiak and his staff began breaking down film on the Ducks early in the week.

But while the players are with their families, Krystkowiak said it's imperative that they are responsible during their four-day hiatus from all things basketball.

"I'm trusting them to do the things that they need to do to stay in good basketball shape," Krystkowiak said. "They need to take a day to get into the gym and get some shots up. They can't just be consumed with the holidays."

With the Christmas break, the lure will be strong to overstock on home cooking. Even so, Krystkowiak told his guys before they departed that they will need to come back on Thursday — the first practice following the break — ready to play.

Stopping for even a second to do conditioning at the expense of game-planning can throw Utah off stride. And Oregon is good enough to exploit any opening, no matter how small.

"We have a game to play on Saturday, and that's going to have our attention," Krystkowiak said. "The guys have to hit the ground running when we return."

Making a decision

Utah coaches are mulling whether or not to redshirt junior center Marko Kovacevic, who just recently returned to practice following a broken wrist.

Kovacevic has missed so much time that there are concerns that he won't be able to get back into the playing rotation and the Utes may not want to just waste a year of his eligibility. Krysktowiak said last week that no decision either way will be made before the coaches have a chance to sit with Kovacevic and speak with him.

He was the only scholarship player to not enter the game in last Thursday's win over Texas State.

Getting them involved

Against Texas State, Krystkowiak played his younger guys extended minutes in an effort to give them some experience. Freshmen Kenneth Ogbe and Ahmad Fields both saw a lot of time as Utah defeated the Bobcats.

Twitter: @tjonessltrib —

St. Katherineat Utah

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