Before last week, the Utah coaching staff was seriously considering sitting the 6-foot-11 Kovacevic out for the season. He missed the first six weeks of the year recovering from a broken wrist. He first suited up against Boise State, but Krystkowiak held him out so as not to waste his eligibility.
The turning point came recently when coach and player had a sit down. Krystkowiak told him that the team can use his size and physicality in the paint. Now that Kovacevic will play, Renan Lenz will spend much more of his time at power forward, giving Jordan Loveridge a true backup.
With junior center Dallin Bachynski seeing more and more playing time, there's even the chance Loveridge could slide to small forward in some personnel groups.
"The main thing is that Marko missed all of last season at his junior college and didn't want to miss two years in a row," Krystkowiak said. "That weighed heavily into the decision. There are some great teams in the Pac-12 and we need all the depth and bodies we can get."
The 11-1 Utes are happy with the way they played and competed in the non-conference portion of their schedule. Still, they are eager to advance to league play, beginning Thursday with Oregon and Saturday with Oregon State.
"We're really excited about the opportunity to compete in the Pac-12," junior guard Delon Wright said. "It's the chance to play in one of the best conferences in the country. There is great talent out there and we want to see where we stack up."
Utah defeated the Ducks last year at the Huntsman Center. The Utes lost to Oregon the very next week in a Pac-12 Conference tournament semifinal.
Krystkowiak said freshman forward Ahmad Fields is starting to challenge for playing time. Fields, a 6-5 lefty out of Washington D.C., is one of the most athletic players on the team, but has been prone to rookie mistakes. He scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against St. Katherine, but it is his attitude on the practice floor that has stood out.
"He's been one of our best practice players after the Christmas break," Krystkowiak said. "He's been locked in, and he's one of those guys who's eager to show that he should be getting some minutes."
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Oregon at Utah
Thursday, 6 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks