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The Runnin' Utes need a pit stop.
Larry Krystkowiak was driving to work on Saturday morning when he realized that he felt tired. Dead tired. Just plain drained.
"I felt a little bit like maybe I've been hit by a truck," he said. "It's been a grind. For me, maybe more than other seasons."
Over the course of the day, the Utah basketball coach thought if he as a coach was running low, his players must be near empty. When he thought about how his players had been less crisp in recent weeks and their body language had been off, it all added up to one solution in his mind: They need a break.
Utah (17-8, 8-5) planned to take Sunday off. And heck, why not Monday as well? While the Utes of the last three weeks haven't been the team they were for the start of Pac-12 play, they're hopeful that a little time off will help heal what ails them.
"That would be great," junior Kyle Kuzma said when he heard about the tentative two-day sabbatical. "We really need it."
Krystkowiak realizes now that Utah, now tied for fifth place in the Pac-12, didn't do itself many favors by playing in Hawaii over the Christmas break, including a game early on Christmas morning in the Diamond Head Classic. When many teams were home with their families, the Utes were playing ball. Following that, they had only a week to gear up for Colorado and the start of Pac-12 play.
That might not even be the main factor that has contributed to the "grind" of a season the Utes also have had to learn to adapt to each other and integrate two mid-year players over the course of the last two months. But having no break hasn't helped make that easier.
Both Parker Van Dyke and Devon Daniels were diplomatic talking about the need for a break, with Van Dyke saying "It's better than work," and Daniels saying he couldn't complain about doing what he loves. But that doesn't mean they don't want to take a breather.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Daniels said. "That's for sure."
There's a clear line of demarcation in which Utah fell off: Before Oregon, and After Oregon.
Going into the touted match-up with the Ducks, Utah was crisp: The team had shot 55 percent or higher in five straight games, and was coming off shellackings of Washington State and Washington on the road. They had hit a season high in swagger.
Since that close 73-67 defeat, the execution hasn't been the same. The Utes have had at least 13 turnovers in their last five games, and last week on the road, they shot under 45 percent for the first time in Pac-12 play. They've struggled to run the same pick-and-rolls for their slashing guards that served them well early. Slow starts have become a regular thing.
Even as the Utes beat up on the Huskies again at home on Saturday, Krystkowiak was frustrated with seeing players standing around the perimeter on offense, waiting for something to happen instead of creating.
There also hasn't been much slack given to players, thanks in part to the depth Utah has enjoyed. Players have been yanked quickly after turnovers and other mistakes. Starting jobs have turned over. Playing time has been tweaked. When players have subbed out in recent weeks, some of them have hung their heads on the bench.
Tight competition between teammates, while sold by Krystkowiak as a positive, can also contribute to the grind. On one level, the Utes may simply need a day away from each other.
It's a bold call to make ahead of Utah's last regular-season game against a ranked opponent Thursday on the road in Eugene. But then again, when Krystkowiak felt how tired he was on Saturday, it wasn't that tough to decide what to do.
"I'm gonna cut our guys some slack if they feel even close to the way I feel," Krystkowiak said. "We're going to take Sunday off, we're going to take Monday off. We're going to have a real early Tuesday morning film session. It's not that we don't respect Oregon, obviously. But I think at this time and place in our season and the way our guys look, that's probably going to help us more than anything."
Utah at No. 5 Oregon
P Thursday, 7 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN2