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Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak played off his seven-game win streak against No. 25 USC.
"It's a little like flipping a coin," he said. "You do it seven straight times and it comes up heads. It has no effect whatsoever on the next outcome."
That's one interpretation. Another would be that Krystkowiak has the Trojans' and coach Andy Enfield's number.
In the past three seasons with 20 wins or more, Utah has built some streaks against Pac-12 schools and added to them this season. The Utes have won six straight over Colorado and five straight against Arizona State.
But the Utes (11-4, 2-1) have no longer in-conference advantage than the one over the Trojans (15-2, 2-2), who've they've beaten by an average of 14 points in the past seven meetings. It's been closer lately as USC has rebuilt. The Utes edged the Trojans by 11 at the Galen Center last year, and by eight in the Pac-12 Tournament.
If the coin flip theory holds true, that could be this week. Similar to Utah, USC has five players averaging between 15 and 10 points per game, making it tough to pinpoint "the head of the snake" to borrow a Krystkowiak term. USC is No. 9 in blocked shots per game, led by Chimezie Metu (1.8 bpg), and the Trojans take care of the ball with a plus-1.4 turnover margin and the third-best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.27) in the conference.
Most of the Trojans are well-known to Utah at this point. Krystkowiak says Utah keeps files for years on opponents to refer back to tendencies and other points of emphasis. Utah is seeing players such as Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart for the third year, plus USC's health is a question. Key big Bennie Boatwright hasn't been available in conference play, taking a weapon out of USC's rotation.
But Krystkowiak's not about to act like he's got the winning formula down pat.
"I pay no attention to whether it's a winning streak or a losing streak," he said. "It's always very much staying in the moment and the next opponent."
The way many of Utah's games have gone this season, either big wins or close losses, there hasn't been much opportunity to see how the team can handle a full-court press in crunch time.
"We hadn't had a whole lot of time in practice to prepare for that," he said. "It gets a little frenzied. The guys who ran away from the ball need to come back and help. A lot of times with a press of that nature, it's not the play it's the players. We've got to come back to the ball and not make some of the errant passes we made down the stretch."
Still, Utah only had one turnover in the final minutes of the game, a giveaway by Lorenzo Bonam. Inbounds plays worked, Utah was able to get three dunks or layups in the final four minutes, then hit six of their final eight free throws. Krystkowiak said he planned to build more time in practice this week to break the press, particularly with USC and UCLA upcoming.
Back on the mend
Krystkowiak stole a little bit of his team's thunder Saturday afternoon in Tempe when he suffered a back episode in the final minute of Utah's win. He was forced out of the huddle and trainers worked on him as the Utes closed out the win.
Krystkowiak said he was "still not out of the woods" with his back, which he said "locked up" at an inopportune moment. But he doesn't envision his injury keeping him out of action this weekend.
"I'm just kind of walking around a little gingerly," he said. "But got some good treatments coming back here, doing some stretching. Getting some easy exercise. Hopefully we can avoid any problems on the sideline."