This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A trio of Utah basketball players stepped out of the tunnel connecting to their locker room Monday night and stopped. Josh Watkins, Kareem Storey and Jason Washburn gazed upward at the video board playing highlights to a vacated arena of the Utes' 58-55 win over NAIA San Diego Christian College.
"I think it's important that we savor the wins," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak had said minutes earlier.
So his players paused, and watched the best moments from their not-quite-best-case-scenario season opener.
Before Monday, questions abounded about the Utes' talent, their conditioning and Krystkowiak's ability to turn the team picked to finish last in the Pac-12 Conference into anything else. None of those was quite resolved after the uneven victory against the Hawks, in which the Utes trailed for much of the first half and in the end needed a half-court heave to stray left to hang on for the win.
"We know what our team's about, but obviously people have their questions about us out there," Washburn said. "And hopefully we answered a few tonight."
Washburn started at center in place of injured senior David Foster, and notched his first career double-double, finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Watkins led the Utes in scoring with 23 points.
Outside of that pair the only healthy returners from last year's Utah team the Utes struggled. While Watkins and Washburn shot a combined 14-of-24 from the field, the rest of the team was just 3-of-14.
The game was the first of three in six nights for Utah, which plays Boise State on the road Wednesday and then Saturday hosts Montana State.
In the exhibition season, the Utes were marred by a one-point loss to Division II Adams State. To open the regular season with a second loss to a lower-division school? Inconceivable on paper but seemingly a very real possibility as the Hawks flirted with the lead for the first 30 minutes, tying the game with 10:55 left.
The Utes quickly responded, however. Six seconds later Storey made two free throws, and the Utes, while they could never put San Diego Christian College as far away as they might have liked, had the lead for good.
"We could say we should have beat that team by 20," Washburn said. "I don't want to make excuses, but they started five seniors and this is our second game together."
Storey's free throws became the Utes' best late-game weapon. He finished the game 10-of-12, and for the second game in a row found himself on the floor late in the game, pushing Watkins to the two-guard spot while he did much of the ball handling.
"Kareem for us was a little spark again," Krystkowiak said.
The spark was all that was needed for the win. The Utes began a season of uncertainty and anxiousness with a victory.
"It's a win for us ,and we're happy about it," Krystkowiak said, "but we've got a lot of work to do."
Utah 58, San Diego Christian College 55
R Josh "Jiggy" Watkins leads the Utes with 23 points, while Jason Washburn notches his first career double-double.
• The Utes commit 14 turnovers, while SDCC gives the ball up eight times.
• San Diego Christian College fell to 0-2 after it lost its season opener at home to NAIA Carroll College.