SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak looked to the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs when he needed a model for his offense during the offseason. The No. 13 Utes don’t have a dominant scorer that can simply take over when needed, so he had to find another way to maximize their offensive potential.
Arizona State saw the results of that Thursday night in an 83-41 loss in which eight Utah players scored at least eight points.
Coaches tend to be copycats when they see peers having success, so Krystkowiak poached parts of the Spurs’ scheme and mixed it with his own motion offense. Now Utah is No. 5 in the country with a plus-16.5 scoring margin and ranks in the top eight in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage and points per shot.
The offensive success has come from a completely unselfish philosophy that emphasizes sharing the ball and taking great shots. The Utes (22-5, 12-3 Pac-12) will need everything they can get from that offense with No. 7 Arizona (25-3, 13-2) coming to Salt Lake City on Saturday with a share of the Pac-12 lead on the line.
“The Spurs don’t have to beat anybody individually. They just kind of do it collectively,” Krystkowiak said. “That’s what I was hoping to build. We don’t have a LeBron (James) and a bunch of guys. It can be done collectively.
“On any given night we have a bunch of weapons that can hurt you,” he added. “That’s what the Spurs did. Even on nights where they shut down (Manu) Ginobili and (Tony) Parker to get some rest, their guys rose up to the occasion. I think that collective idea is pretty powerful when it comes to basketball.”
The Utes have the most wins in the country by 20 or more points and have a 23.3-point margin of victory in 12 Pac-12 wins.
Guard Delon Wright leads the team with 14.3 points per game, but that ranks just No. 12 in the conference. Utah has three players averaging double digits and nine averaging 3.8 points or more. By comparison, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson leads the team with 14.2 points per game and it also has three players averaging double figures. The Wildcats, however, are more top heavy with six players averaging 9.0 or more.
“Seeing the Spurs do what they did to the Heat, who people thought were going to win, it kind of woke people up and (gave) a sense of urgency of how to play the game, how to play the right way,” Wright said. “Last year we were selfish, but this year guys have to look in the mirror and tell themselves they’re not going to score as many points if we want to win. Guys have to sacrifice some points if we want to win as a team.”
Arizona State coach Herb Sendek got an up-close look at what that offense can do Thursday. The loss was the Sun Devils’ worst since 1998.
“They are a top 10 team for a reason,” Sendek said. “They move the ball. They have good balance inside and out.”
Krystkowiak has developed a system to chart each player’s shots with an emphasis on quality attempts. Each shot is given a 1 to 5 grade, with 5 being a great attempt and 1 being terrible. Players aren’t penalized for adverse situations, such as the shot clock running down, but the coaching staff goes over the results after every game. The goal is to pass up good shots for even better ones.
“You can see shot qualities and we’re usually well up over four,” Krystkowiak said. “We don’t accept or tolerate the bad shots.
“Kind of a selfless, ball energy. We talk about the ball moving all the time. … We’ve come a long way offensively, sharing it and relying on people and trusting the system and trusting the ball energy and we don’t take very many bad shots. I think that’s the key.”
The Pac-12 regular-season title is basically on the line for the Utes on Saturday. Both teams will have two games remaining and a Wildcats victory will guarantee them at least a share of the championship.
“It’s a surreal feeling because it’s all coming together now,” Utah guard Brandon Taylor said. “But it’s not a surprise. We put the work in and we worked our tails off in the summer time. It’s a good feeling to see the results we’re getting from putting all that work in.”
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