Larry Krystkowiak

Paul Sakuma

After four years as a college player and 12 as a pro, plus stints as a collegiate and NBA head coach, Larry Krystkowiak still gets nervous on game day.

It's not simply that butterflies settle into the 6-foot-9-inch Utah coach's stomach.

It's actual nausea.

"I've never been a puker," he said. "I wish I could sometimes."

The easy joke to make here, then, would be about his team's record.

At 5-19 and 2-10 in Pac-12 play, the Utes are six games - in which they'll be underdogs - from becoming the 17th league team since 1978 to win only two conference games or less.

That is, if the lowly USC Trojans, who sit at 1-11 but beat the Utes last month, don't join them.

In reality, though, the Utes present a unique challenge for the Arizona Wildcats (17-8, 8-4) today at noon: a team desperate for a season-defining win.

"They either can go in sleeping on us, or saying, 'Hey these guys are going to come at us with their best shot,' because we've really got nothing to lose anymore," Utah center Jason Washburn said about the Cats. "That team is the team that needs to come (today), on our end.

"We have to come like we have something to play for."

Krystkowiak admitted, though, that the Utes "have to have three guys" play well "for us to be competitive and be in a ballgame."

They were competitive when Arizona traveled to Salt Lake City on Jan. 19. The Utes trailed by one with 1:53 to play in the first half.

They trailed by five early in the second half when Solomon Hill was ejected for throwing a forearm. Somehow sparked, the Wildcats went on a 20-2 run to seal the game.

Washburn said the Utes "lost sight of the game plan" after the forearm shiver.

They'll try not to make the same mistake twice.

To pull the upset of the Pac-12 season would soften a forgettable year for Utah.

"It's hard not to get lost in the glamour of being in this place," Washburn said of McKale Center.

Hired in April, Krystkowiak wasn't given time to assemble a proper recruiting class.

After losing eight players to transfer, the Utes booted guard Josh Watkins for disciplinary reasons and lost center David Foster for the season with a foot injury.

The coach said his "new start" and the team's attitude has softened the effects of the slump.

"It could be a heckuva lot worse," he said.

Not that it's easy.

"As a competitor, losing itself hurts," said Washburn, who scored 14 against the UA last month. "Losing in bunches - when you know you're working hard, you know you're giving your all but somehow you can't find a way to stop the bleeding because of one little play here or there - it eats you up at night. It eats you alive.

"The only way to fix it is probably he way most of us don't want to - go out on the court, watch what you did wrong and keep preparing."

After losing by five at Arizona State on Thursday, Utah studied its defensive breakdown and inability to box out rebounders, and re-examined its offense against man-to-man teams.

"One of the hardest things to do after a loss is come with the mindset to be ready to play," Washburn said. "We have to watch it.

"We have to fix our problems."