Call it desperation week for Utah.
With four games remaining in the regular season for the Utes, Larry Krystkowiak's team will embark on its last major road trip of the season, facing California and Stanford.
In doing so, Utah will encounter a pair of schools that badly need wins in order to stay in the at-large berth conversation for the NCAA Tournament. The Bears are in better shape than the Cardinal. Indeed, they are one of the hottest teams in the league, behind Player of the Year candidate Allen Crabbe. But Stanford is in full panic mode, a team in a must-win scenario each time it touches the floor.
How does this affect the Utes? It simply means that Utah will get the best shot of Cal and Stanford this week. It means that Krystkowiak's crew will need to be that much more locked in if it wants to earn a victory away from the Huntsman Center.
"We just have to go out and play hard," senior Jason Washburn said. "We want to finish the season strong and on a good note. We're certainly not going to quit. Those are two good teams that we're going to be facing."
It's not like Utah doesn't have things to play for. Improving on last year's conference record of three wins is a small but important step in the Krystkowiak rebuilding process. A win would do that. Winning another game on the road against one of the better teams in the league would be another step.
And then there's the revenge factor.
Two of the uglier losses of the season came at the hands of these two teams especially to Stanford. On a snowy Sunday night in January, the Cardinal handed Utah an 87-56 beating that was historic in how lopsided it was. This is a chance to show progress even from last month.
"It will take effort," freshman forward Jordan Loveridge said. "We know that we're right there, and we know that we're getting better. We are doing the right things and preparing the right way. We are playing well, and we're competitive. We just have to keep getting better every day."
Utah at Cal
P Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV • ESPNU