This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Portland, Ore. • If you're looking for greatest hits, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak's got plenty of sound bites.
The easy-speaking Montanan talks about the "head of the snake." He talks about "playing with house money." Ask him about goals, and he'll talk about "getting a little better each day." There's depth to his grab bag of folksy sayings.
He had one for how he felt Saturday night: "Pinch me."
While the Runnin' Utes have a proud postseason history this is the sixth time the program has been to the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 it's uncharted and even unexpected territory for Utah under Krystkowiak. The 50-year-old coach said after his team's 75-64 win over Georgetown that he might've laughed if asked if he would be in the Sweet 16 this soon after taking over in 2011.
But they're here. And awaiting them in Houston next Friday is the bluest of blue bloods, the Duke Blue Devils, who claim Final Four runs as birthright.
The Utes may not have expected to arrive on this stage this early. But at NRG Stadium on Friday, they have a chance to knock off basketball royalty and maybe inch closer to the throne themselves.
It was a noticeably subdued locker room after the program's first Sweet 16 berth in 10 years, and a reserved Jordan Loveridge explained that Utah doesn't consider its business finished. All-out celebration can wait.
"Guys were saying, 'We're not done yet, we've still got basketball to play,' " Loveridge said. "We're gonna get back and get ready for our next game."
In Salt Lake City, the Utes are already somewhat conquering heroes after getting to the second weekend and validating a mostly season-long top 25 ranking. But against No. 1 seed Duke, Utah will have to be a giant killer.
The Blue Devils have won 75 percent of their games in the NCAA Tournament, and have been to the Elite Eight in 19 of their 39 appearances. Krystkowiak's counterpart Mike Krzyzewski who has a firmer grasp on the "Coach K" moniker owing to his 35 years at Duke and all-time best 1,014 wins has four national title rings.
This year's Duke team is as flush with talent as any: The Blue Devils are second nationally in points per possession (1.189) and are among the best shooting teams in several categories. They're led by future NBA lottery pick and player of the year candidate Jahlil Okafor, but there's a robust supporting cast including sharpshooter Quinn Cook, versatile stretch forward Justise Winslow and talented passer Tyus Jones.
While Utah faced San Diego State early in the season, it can't feel reassuring that the Aztecs defense that held Utah to 49 points in November was busted for 69 points by the Blue Devils on Sunday.
Still, to borrow yet another Krystkowiak term, the Utes have made progress in "fixing what's broke." Utah's efficiency was back to its midseason form against the Hoyas, as they shot over 57 percent from both 2-point and 3-point range while keeping turnovers to a relative minimum (9). For the first time since playing Alabama State in November, the team had five players in double-figure scoring, and balance is as big of a bellwether of success as any for Utah.
There's also been an intensity, Krystkowiak said, that hasn't drained even as the season has rolled along. When Utah was ranked in the top 10 and blowing out opponents, he feared walking into practice, seeing his team playing "grab-ass" and not having focus. But that edge has remained, and that's what gives him confidence moving forward.
Even against Duke.
"[In practice], you wouldn't know at any point during this season what our record is," Krystkowiak said. "They've come to work from start to finish."
For the Utes, the finish hasn't arrived. Not quite yet.
Utah vs. Duke
O NCAA South Region semifinal, Houston
Tipoff • Friday, 7:45 p.m. MDT