SALT LAKE CITY – Back when the Pac-12 was the Pac-10, games at Washington and Washington State were generally considered the most difficult trip in the conference.
Opposing coaches bemoaned the travel to the Evergreen State and the trip – either a short flight or a long drive — between Seattle and Pullman. The rabid fans – especially at Alaska Airlines Arena in its heyday – and the cold climate only exasperated the tough conditions for visitors.
“Coming up here (Washington) is still tough, but if you’re asking me what’s the toughest trip in the league right now, that Colorado-Utah trip takes the cake, buddy,” Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said laughing a few weeks ago. “All of the reasons that made the UW-WSU trip so tough are there, plus you add altitude.
“And they’re very good. But even better at home.”
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The Beavers lost, 64-58, at Colorado and fell, 80-69, at Utah during the first week in January.
“It was early in the (Pac-12) season for us, but we didn’t handle it well,” Robinson said. “And I suspect, we won’t be the only one.”
Washington (13-9, 5-4 Pac-12) makes its second Rocky Mountain trip since Utah and Colorado joined the conference in 2011. Due to the unbalanced schedule, the Huskies didn’t play there last season.
“Man, I know this trip won’t be easy because it tests you in ways that other trips don’t with the travel and everything else,” coach Lorenzo Romar said this week on his radio show. “I’ll have to check what their record is, but I suspect they’re very good at home.”
Utah (14-7, 3-6) is 14-1 overall and 3-1 in league at Huntsman Center, site of Thursday’s 6 p.m. game against UW.
Colorado (16-6, 5-4), which will host UW on Sunday, is 13-1 and 4-1 at Coors Events Center.
When Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak took over in 2011, he inherited a team that had consecutive losing seasons and mustered six wins his first season. The Utes are one win from matching last season’s total and still harbor postseason aspirations.
“There’s a lot of things moving in the right direction, and even though the wins and losses aren’t where we’d like them to be, I think there’s a little bit of a sense of pride in the program and knowing that we’re moving in the right direction,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got great fan support. Our student section is coming out. It feels great.”
Utah averages 12,242 fans at home in the Pac-12 season, second in the conference. Colorado is third at 10,048.
“We’re both tough outs,” Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle said. “Altitude, weather and travel — you put all of that together, and it’s a pretty tough road trip.”
For the Huskies, this week is a chance to rebound from Saturday’s 87-81 upset loss at Washington State and sweep the season series against Utah and Colorado.
Washington hung on for a 59-57 victory on Jan. 8 despite a career-best 27-point performance by Utah junior guard Delon Wright, who missed a potential winning three-pointer as time expired.
It was yet another close defeat for the Utes, whose losses are by nine points or fewer.
“Coach Krystkowiak and his staff are resurrecting that program right now,” Romar said. “They play very sound basketball. They play hard. They play tough.
“And once they start winning on the road, they’re going to give people a lot of problems in this league because they are winning at home.”
|Rocky Mountain road trip|
|Team||Home record (Pac-12 home record)||Altitude|
|Utah||14-1 (3-1)||4,327 feet|
|Colorado||13-1 (4-1)||5,430 feet|