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It's typical of this era, said Larry Krystkowiak, that if things don't immediately work out for a player, he thinks "I'm just going to go quit, take my ball, go home, and I'll find another team."
Freshman Kyle Kuzma might easily have fallen prey to that thinking.
After all, he went eight Pac-12 games without playing double-digit minutes, averaging little more than six. But Krystkowiak said Monday that "maybe a month ago," Kuzma had his "moment of truth" as those thoughts began to creep in.
Coaches spoke to Kuzma, and since, the 6-foot-9 forward from Flint, Mich., has "been bringing his lunchbox each day to practice," said Krystkowiak, who compared Kuzma's lack of playing time to that of junior guard Brandon Taylor as a freshman. Taylor was scratched four times as a "DNP-coach's decision," and nine times played less than eight minutes.
But the Utes leaned on Taylor heavily in the second half of the season, and he became a mainstay.
Kuzma got his chance against USC, in Los Angeles, totaling six rebounds and dishing out three assists in 13 minutes.
Against Colorado, in Boulder, with Krystkowiak emphasizing rebounding margin and feeling that Kuzma might be better in that department than fellow freshman Brekkott Chapman, he played 17 minutes, scoring nine points on 3-of-4 shooting (including 2-3 from behind the arc) and finishing with four boards and three assists.
The early season adversity will help Kuzma in the long run, Krystkowiak said.
"He's got a bright future and he's done it the right way so far, so from my perspective, he's an easy guy to cheer for."
Loveridge gets "nasty" • Utah junior Jordan Loveridge averaged seven rebounds per game in both his freshman and sophomore seasons as an undersized power forward.
This year, as a big small forward, Loveridge is averaging just 4.1.
In fact, Loveridge had seven boards just once all season prior to Saturday night with eight against Arizona State in January (though, to be fair, he is also playing 10 fewer minutes per game than last year). But he hit the boards with abandon in Boulder, collecting 10 rebounds to pair with 11 points for his 11th career double-double.
Krystkowiak said he's seen that aggressiveness in rebounding drills, when "he gets a little nasty," but he challenged Loveridge to do the same in games.
"Take that out on somebody else," he said. "Quit trying to beat up Kuzma and Dakarai [Tucker]"
Loveridge might also have been motivated for the second straight year by a poor performance the first time out against the Buffs, going 0-for-6 with two points and three rebounds in 21 minutes. Last season, he went 2-for-11 with four points and four rebounds in 38 minutes, only to total 21 and seven in the rematch.
Injury woes? Negative • Utah trainer Trevor Jameson gave Krystkowiak a positive report Monday morning on "phantom" knee pain that caused senior point guard Delon Wright to set out part of the second half against Colorado.
Krystkowiak said there may have been something floating under Wright's kneecap that is no longer there, but whatever it is, they are not concerned.
Krystkowiak also recently heard good news about freshman center Jakob Poeltl, who reported to Jameson that he feels no pain in his sprained ankle which was a "pretty substantial injury," Krystkowiak said, and now only feels slightly weak.
"Having him back in our lineup provides us with a little bit of rebounding punch, I think, defensively, and certainly a post presence and an active big," Krystkowiak said. "I think his best basketball hopefully is ahead of him here."