Generating praise from Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak is difficult, sort of like trying to draw a smile from the Grinch.
Perhaps that's why his words regarding Utah freshman Jordan Loveridge made such an impact on Monday morning.
When the Pac-12 all-conference teams were announced by early afternoon, Loveridge was nowhere to be found on the all-freshman portion of the list. The 6-foot-6 power forward wasn't even named honorable mention. Despite this, Loveridge has been one of the very best first-year players in the league, living up to the considerable hype he generated as a top-100 player nationally out of West Jordan.
"He has improved," Krystkowiak said. "The one thing is that he's gotten better defensively and he's starting to play up to the level that we expect on that end of the floor. We've been looking for that out of him."
The last five games have been noticeable. Loveridge has averaged almost 13 points and nine rebounds per outing in that span. For the season, he finished fourth among Pac-12 freshmen in points, second in rebounds. He scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds against Oregon, and played well against Oregon State last week as well.
A key has been Loveridge diversifying his game. He's gone away from his habit of staying on the perimeter and taking jump shots. Instead, he's using his ballhandling and athleticism to drive to the basket. He's finding open shooters with the pass and creating more opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Indeed, in playing some of his best basketball of the season, Loveridge found Jason Washburn for the layup that provided his 1,000th career point. It's no coincidence that the Utah offense has improved as Loveridge's has. He is one of the only Ute players who can create his own offense off the bounce.
"Jordan is a tough matchup," Krystkowiak said. "That's one of the best things I can say about him. He can get by guys and create headaches for a defense. He's become one of the best passers on the team, and he creates offense that way. For a while, he fell in love with the 3-pointer. But he was making himself a little easier to guard. We want him to be more aggressive."
Utah vs. USC
P Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network Pac-12 tournament schedule
All times MDT
• No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 9 Arizona State, 1:06 p.m., Pac-12
• No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 Oregon State, approx. 3:36 p.m., Pac-12
• No. 7 USC vs. No. 10 Utah, 7:06 p.m., Pac-12
• No. 6 Washington vs. No. 11 Washington State, approx. 9:36 p.m., Pac-12
• No. 8/9 vs. No. 1 UCLA, 1:06 p.m., Pac-12
• No. 5/12 vs. No. 4 Arizona, approx. 3:36 p.m., Pac-12
• No. 7/10 vs. No. 2 California, 7:06 p.m., Pac-12
• No. 6/11 vs. No. 3 Oregon, approx. 9:38 p.m., ESPNU
• Semifinal 1, 7:06 p.m., Pac-12
• Semifinal 2, approx. 9:38 p.m., ESPN
• Championship game, 9:02 p.m., ESPN