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Utah was on the wrong end of a "good old-fashioned beatdown" in Tucson, said head coach Larry Krystkowiak on Monday, who used the word "punch" multiple times in describing his team's 69-51 loss to No. 7 Arizona.
No doubt, it was a blow to the billowing hopes of Utah fans that the Runnin' Utes not only lost to the colossal Wildcats, but that at times they looked like they were in the wrong weight class.
Just don't expect Utah to suddenly begin training for "rumbles" or "thrillas."
Utah remains a basketball team, not a group of rowdy pugilists and at No. 12 in the latest AP poll, tied for first in the Pac-12, one that is better than most.
Said Krystkowiak: "We don't need to go over the top and create hand-to-hand combat for practice today, because we're not playing Arizona, we're playing Washington State, who's a really high-powered offensive team."
Still, Krystkowiak acknowledged that Arizona's physicality, combined with stellar stretches from T.J. McConnell, Brandon Ashley and Pac-12 Player of the Week Stanley Johnson, was responsible for the seeming gaping divide between the two Pac-12 championship favorites.
Utah can't get significantly bigger or stronger this season, he said, but they might make their Feb. 28 rematch a fairer fight by replicating more physical games in practices, and sometimes making more sparing use of their whistles.
And what Krystkowiak didn't say is that it's possible Saturday's loss was, at least in part, a bit of an aberration.
Utah's coaches have addressed the team's toughness in multiple ways since the Utes were similarly outmuscled on the boards by the Wildcats in a 71-39 Pac-12 tournament drubbing last March.
They brought in junior college big Chris Reyes and Austrian center Jakob Poeltl.
Ironically, given Krystkowiak's hand-to-hand crack, they donned gloves and boxed each other during spring conditioning.
They even spent a weekend training like Navy SEALS.
"I feel that we are more physical, it's just that in that game, it might have not showed that much," said junior Jordan Loveridge, a 6-foot-6, 222-pound three for a team that is by no means diminutive.
And stats back him up.
Even after losing on the boards 40-19 in Arizona, Utah ranks 25th in the nation in rebound margin, edging teams by 6.9 per game not far behind 17th-placed Arizona, at 7.8.
Utah totaled 31 or more rebounds in all other games this season, and has the overall edge against opponents in blocks, steals and turnovers (as they did last season, but this time after an exponentially more difficult non-conference schedule).
"The reality is, a lot of it's a mindset for us, to be tougher and play harder, but that was one heck of an environment," Krystkowiak said.
Before a raucous crowd of 14,655 at the McKale Center, his players were getting beaten to the that word again punch. Instead of being in low, ready stances, he said, they were standing up. Four times, Utah was unable to grab a missed Arizona free throw.
"To me, that's hitting the guy early and a little bit of desire to go get the ball," he said.
As Krystkowiak had written on the white board before the game, and as Loveridge repeated before Monday's practice: Utah's players can't be reactors, they have to be actors.
Last year, the Utes responded to the Arizona rout by getting knocked out in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament by Saint Mary's.
This week, as home favorites against Washington State and Washington, we'll learn if they have a stronger chin.
"We're tougher than we've been in the past," Krystkowiak said, adding, "I don't think you can ever be tough enough."
Washington State at No. 12 Utah
O Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network