Winning seventeen straight at home
The Runnin’ Utes are in a zone
But one great truth must still be told
Titles must be won on the road
COMMENTARY — I hate Mondays. Dislike is not a strong enough word, I truly do hate Mondays. Why? Because I have spent the past few days sleeping in (luckily I have a late start for Sunday meetings this year), playing with my kids, spending time with my beautiful wife and basically doing what I want to with my time. On Monday morning, I have to switch gears, get up early and go back to work. It’s the same routine for the rest of the week, but after a few days I am back in the groove. There is a substantial difference between getting up and going to work on Wednesday, or even Tuesday, than on a dreaded Monday morning.
It’s the same with virtually everything else we do in life. It is much easier to do something that you have consistently done to the point it has become a habit. Ralph Waldo Emerson has been credited with saying, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do — not that the nature of the thing is changed, but that our power to do so is increased.”
Winning, and losing, is no different. Once teams make a habit out of winning, and have created a winning culture, it is a lot easier to win. The same can be said for losing.
Coach Larry Krystkowiak has seen both sides of the coin. In his first year as Utah’s head coach, the Runnin’ Utes were 6-25. The next year they improved to 15-18, and last year they went 21-12. Utah is already 20-4 this year, having gone undefeated in the Huntsman Center for 17 straight contests extending back to last season.
The last time that the Runnin’ Utes gave up a game at home was nearly a year ago (Feb. 19, 2014) when they lost to Arizona in overtime. Coincidentally, the next big test for Utah on The Hill will be in 12 days on Feb. 28 when Arizona returns to town.
The current home winning streak pales in comparison to the 54-game streak from 1997 through 2000, but every epic journey begins with a single step.
The naysayers try to discount the Runnin’ Utes’ hot hand at home by pointing to home games like Carroll, South Dakota State and Texas-Pan American. However, Utah’s home winning streak includes a W over nationally-ranked Wichita State, as well as some big wins over Pac-12 opponents.
When I say “big wins” I am literally talking about a big margin of victory. The Runnin’ Utes have won five of their seven home conference games this season by more than 20 points, with an average margin of victory in all seven home conference games of more than 22 points.
Delon Wright appreciates the extra momentum created by a rabid home crowd. “When our crowd is screaming at the other team and then when we play well, we feed of their energy. They really motivate us and boost our confidence.”
The upcoming contest against Arizona will likely decide the regular season conference champion and top seed in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. But I’m getting ahead of myself; Utah goes back on the road this week with the only scheduled match-ups this season against Oregon State (Thursday night in Corvallis) and Oregon (Sunday afternoon in Eugene). The Runnin’ Utes only have two home games left, and will conclude the regular season at Washington State and University of Washington.
Now don’t get me wrong, winning all of your home games is nice — very nice. But you have to be able to win games on the road in order to win a title. Once upon a time, a long time ago in the WAC, and even the Mountain West Conference, the regular season champ got to host the conference tournament. Not so in the Pac-12. In order to win the Pac-12 Tournament, Utah is going to have to win four straight in Sin City. In fact, I love the optimism displayed by Arizona in that the schedule of games that has been displayed on its website all season long extends all the way to the NCAA Championship on April 6 in Indianapolis. True champions have to win on the road.
The Runnin’ Utes are currently 5-4 on the road. Notable early-season road losses include San Diego State and Kansas. After beating the Bruins on The Hill by 32, Utah came up 10 points short against UCLA in L.A.
The Runnin’ Utes can’t afford to look past this week to the much anticipated rematch with Arizona. Oregon is currently the third best team in the conference, and Oregon State is one of only three teams to beat Arizona all year long.
The Oregon road trip is as much an opportunity as a test — an opportunity for Utah to rise up and prove it can win outside of the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center in preparation for a long postseason run on the road.
Here’s hoping that the Runnin’ Utes don’t break out their funeral blacks (in which they are winless thus far this season) for their jaunt to the Pacific Northwest this week, and that both Utah and Arizona can run the table in order to set up a monumental showdown on The Hill on Feb. 28.
Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.