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Utah basketball: Utes have struggled to sync up

Published February 17, 2017 1:26 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Eugene, Ore. • There's been games where the Utes have emerged from the locker room angry or defeated or frustrated. They weren't consumed by any of those particular emotions Thursday night.

The team offered a collective shrug following a 79-61 whipping by No. 7 Oregon.

They had been without their best player.

They had been competitive for stretches.

And Oregon simply was much better that evening in Matthew Knight Arena.

Coach Larry Krystkowiak didn't offer a diatribe on how the backcourt hasn't produced or how the team has started slow or how players made poor decisions on the floor. It wasn't indifference. It was a hard, grounded sense of reality. The Ducks were too good.

"I don't feel like we beat ourselves, so I can kind of swallow what happened. I felt like we got beat," he said. "There's times where you win when I don't feel good. Then there's times when we lose a game like this that I don't really have a problem with it."

Unfortunately for Utah (17-9, 8-6), there's been too many games like that this season, one that has sacrificed important results to poor timing.

Any team that brings together as many new pieces as the Utes did this season has to hope things come together, and has to pray for good fortune. The Utes showed at many points this season that they had the talent to be competitive at the top of the Pac-12. But that talent either hasn't been able to play together or hasn't meshed at the right time against the conference's top teams and other top squads.

Would Thursday's result in Eugene have been any different if not for a freak accident in practice — Kyle Kuzma twisting his ankle?

The Utes never will know if Kuzma could've helped them earn a first-round win in the Diamond Head Classic, when he tweaked an ankle back in December. The loss to San Francisco set Utah on a course to play in the loser's bracket, which resulted in two wins that ultimately didn't signify much for the season.

They'll never know if David Collette and Sedrick Barefield, two players who started the last game, could've made a difference against then-ranked Butler at home or Xavier on the road. Both were single-digit losses in which the Utes couldn't score — something both have been able to provide at various times.

That's the timing Utah hasn't been able to control. Other timelines just haven't synced up in player development.

The biggest bright spot in Eugene was freshman Jayce Johnson, who had the kind of performance Krystkowiak has been hinting at all season. With 14 points and 12 rebounds, he offered grit when Utah needed some, as he has in practice for much of the last year.

"He's always doing his thing, you know?" Collette said. "He's always working hard, doing what he needs to do. I think tonight he just stepped up in a big way. He's always been a big-time rebounder, and we told him to go to work on those guys because they're smaller."

The frustrating part is that Johnson's big game couldn't align with a big game from Devon Daniels (7 points, 3 for 8), Lorenzo Bonam (5 points, 0 for 6) or Parker Van Dyke (0 points, 0 for 4). Many of Utah's players have been hot at various times. But they only have been able to click together for a few games in January.

When they aligned, they've been extraordinary. Utah's ball movement has been among the better teams in the conference during league play, and they have more players who can attack the rim than they ever have under Krystkowiak. They have boasted an offense that shot over 50 percent in 16 games this season. Similarly, 16 times they've had four or more players in double digits — the kind of game Utah needs to succeed without a surefire first-round NBA Draft pick on the squad.

Krystkowiak is hopeful that Utah will rediscover that balance to finish the season. But with only four games remaining and no ranked opponents left on that schedule, it's looking like the timing might be a little too late for Utah.


Twitter: @kylegoon






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