Through nine games this season, the signs are encouraging pertaining to Utah basketball.
As Saturday night's 61-58 defeat to rival BYU proves, the Utes are far more competitive than last year, when Larry Krystkowiak's team went 6-25. Utah has the best scoring defense in the Pac-12 Conference, it's playing a patient brand of offense, and an almost brand-new roster has yielded a 6-3 start.
"We've done some good things, but at the same time we have a lot of work to do," point guard Glen Dean said. "We have to do some things better. But we know that we are playing well in some spots. We just have to continue to keep improving."
On the road against the Cougars, the Utes put themselves in position to pull off a big upset, leading BYU for most of the way and losing in the final possession when a Justin Seymour 3-pointer missed at the buzzer.
Following the defeat, players and coaches spoke of making the right plays down the stretch. Indeed, Utah went the final seven minutes without a field goal against BYU, as shots missed during crunch time. That enabled the Cougars to rally behind the shooting of Matt Carlino.
"I'm proud of the way we competed," Krystkowiak said. "We have to get better. We have a nice break where we can let guys get some rest. Some of our guys really need to heal a little bit. And then we have to get ready for a good SMU team. We have to find a way to beat the Mustangs, and that's what we'll be thinking about for the next week."
Utah will focus on several things in its 10-day break from competition. Aaron Dotson is still making his way back from stress fracture surgery. Jarred DuBois has an assortment of tiny ailments that need rest and healing. Developing the freshman trio of Jordan Loveridge, Seymour and Dakari Tucker is a priority.
But the next win for the Utes will be one more than a season ago. And many believe Utah will be better in the Pac-12 than first thought.
In those senses, the nonconference season has been a win for the Utes to this point.
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SMU at Utah
P Dec. 18, 7 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network