College basketball • Utah's spot in Pac-12 semis surprised many.
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Las Vegas • Jarred DuBois sat frozen in his locker room cubicle.
Utah's senior shooting guard looked at the ground in a downward trajectory. He seemed reluctant to peel off his uniform for the final time after Friday night's loss to Oregon. His head draped in a towel, his sprained right wrist surrounded by a thick bag of ice, DuBois finally took the time to look up and survey the room.
Immediately, he saw Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge. Glancing to his right, Dakarai Tucker and Glen Dean came into focus.
"The future is bright," DuBois mumbled.
Barring an unlikely invitation to the CBI or CIT tournaments, Utah's season is finished. But not before the Utes reminded their fan base that the month of March can be fun again. Before the Ducks finally stopped their run in a Pac-12 Tournament semifinal at MGM Grand Garden Arena, Utah's season had been a mixed bag of struggles and progress.
Now, the foundation of Larry Krystkowiak's program is clearly in place. The Utes finished the season with 15 wins, more than double the win total of last year.
They won their first two conference tournament games. They ended things on a 4-1 run with wins over Oregon and California. They defeated a ranked team in the Ducks for the first time since 2008.
Going forward, Utah has announced itself as a factor. If Krystkowiak's first season was a throwaway year marked by historic blowouts, he showed this time around that his system works on both ends of the floor.
"Nobody can ask more of us than what we've done," Taylor said. "We came out and did what nobody expected of us. We left it all out there, and we shocked the world. We played so hard, and good things happened to us."
With a 15-18 record, there were difficult times. But of those 18 defeats, eight came by five points or less. If Utah had turned a few of those into victories, the Utes could well be slated for a spot in a postseason tournament, even if it wasn't the Big Dance.
A class of five freshmen also serves as a big reason for hopeful future success. Taylor and Tucker began the season outside of Krystkowiak's rotation. Taylor is now Utah's starting point guard, and Tucker's improvement has been remarkable at small forward.
Jeremy Olsen and Justin Seymour both have had their moments off the bench. And then there's Loveridge.
The rookie out of West Jordan entered the program with big expectations, and he's lived up to them. A 6-foot-7 power forward, Loveridge had a rough ending, going 1 of 10 on Friday against Oregon. But he was one of the finest freshmen in the Pac-12 this season.
The Utes have established themselves as an up-and-coming program. The challenge now is to turn that into a winning program next year and beyond.