Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Tuesday, and Brian Jones and Gregg Giannotti welcomed him by issuing an apology. On Monday, both Jones and Giannotti attempted to pronounce Krystkowiak’s last name.
The butchering was so bad that listeners probably felt like they were in a meat market.
“No problem there, fellas,” Krystkowiak said on Gio and Jones, chuckling. “I’m used to that. It took me about six months in kindergarten to get my star just learning how to spell (my name).”
If Krystkowiak seems like he’s in a good mood, that’s because he is. With wins over Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown, he’s led No. 5 Utah (26-8) to the Sweet 16. The Utes face No. 1 Duke (31-4) this Friday at 9:45 p.m. ET.
Krystkowiak knows his players be tested early and often against the Blue Devils.
“It’s the best coach in America – or one of them,” he said, referring to Mike Krzyzewski. “I would say (Duke has the) best back-to-the basket post player in America (in Jahlil Okafor to go with an) unbelievable backcourt. I mean, here we are, (playing) a No. 1 seed. There’s a reason they’ve only lost four games in a really good league. It’s hard to say where the head of the snake is. It’s a well-oiled machine, and we’re going to have to play really well and take some things away from them.”
With Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Matt Jones, Duke has arguably the best starting five in the country.
“It’s an up-tempo . . . offensive-minded team,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s not going to be an easy task, but this is that time of year where some dreams come true and crazy things happen. We’re just focused on trying to get through that first four minutes. We’ll break our game down into four 10-minute segments. Let’s see what we can do in that first four minutes.”
That incremental approach has defined Utah’s program, which went 6-25 under Krystkowiak in his first year in 2011-12. Four years later, the Utes are in the Sweet 16.
“There was a lot of work,” Krystkowiak said. “We didn’t really have (long-term) aspirations. I never set goals that are too far away. It was always about what was in front of us that particular day – and maybe as far as a week would go – and that would be about it.
“I think every day is a jump ball,” Krystkowiak continued. “You got to go out and try to win the tip and get after it and fix what’s broken. I think what’s happened here is that after four years of doing that, you hope that you’re trending upward, and here we are in a better situation.
“When we won those six games four years ago, it was one of the most fulfilling years I’ve ever had. We really maximized our team. We played really well. We played hard. So in my mind, that was a successful year – even though on paper we only won six games.”
This year, meanwhile, has been a successful year for the Pac-12. The league didn’t get much recognition during the regular season, but three of its programs – Utah, Arizona and UCLA – are in the Sweet 16.
“I think we’re often perceived as Arizona and UCLA go,” Krystkowiak said. “UCLA at this point is in the Sweet 16. Steve Alford’s done a great job there. But early in the season with what he lost a year ago to the draft with a bunch of kids heading out – I think there’s five or six kids playing in the NBA now that were on that team – (it) took them a while and they got thumped pretty good early in the season. So there’s one of the marquee teams in our league (not performing well), and a lot of people from outside went, ‘Wait a minute. UCLA’s not very good. The rest of the league must not be very good.’
“Arizona’s done a great job,” Krystkowiak continued. “But I think the other end of that element is maybe top to bottom we’re not as strong as some conferences. We’ve had a few teams that are trying to get their wheels under them at the bottom of our league, and sometimes that’s part of the perception as well. We know we play a pretty good brand of basketball. We’re fortunate to have three teams in the Sweet 16. Oregon gave Wisconsin a run for their money. Otherwise we’d be 8-0.
“So it’s a little harder to stay up late on the East Coast for a lot of folks because we’re playing a three-hour difference. But this is the time of year that when we get an opportunity to maybe prove to some people that it’s good basketball.”