This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Lost dribbles, backdoor passes intended for teammates who stayed out front and missed shots from all over the court framed Utah's offensive performance Monday night.
One of the teams competing in the Huntsman Center played like the Utes wish they could and hope to do in a month or so. Poise, efficiency and production gave Butler a 68-59 victory.
The No. 18 Bulldogs led by 17 points in the last seven minutes of a game that fell somewhere between unacceptable and understandable for Utah. Even before their flurry of turnovers started coming, the Utes were pretty much doomed by the schedule that brought Butler to town in late November about three weeks before talented transfers Sedrick Barefield and David Collette will become eligible.
"We can't make that excuse, just because we lost," said Utah forward Kyle Kuzma. "We could have won the game without them."
That would have required keeping the basketball long enough to shoot it, and then making a reasonable number of those shots. Those things were awfully difficult for the Utes to do, as they shot 36.8 percent from the field and committed 18 turnovers.
The Bulldogs are solid defenders, "but they're not quite that good," Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak said. Butler alumni Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack were playing Monday in Minneapolis, so this was not exactly the Bulldog team that last appeared in Salt Lake City in the 2010 NCAA West Regional. Then again, Butler is nothing like Northwest Nazarene, Concordia, Coppin State or UC Riverside.
And with their current personnel, the Utes were not going to beat a team that just knocked off Arizona in Las Vegas. Krystkowiak's job is to coach the available players, but even he acknowledges "randomly" picturing what his team will look like in mid-December and certainly by Jan. 1, when the Utes open Pac-12 play against Colorado.
Utah's effort without them Monday may tend to mythologize Barefield and Collette, but they were noticeable in their absence. This team eventually should resemble the Utes of 2013-14, who went 9-9 in conference games in Krystkowiak's third season. As of this episode, Utah looked more like one of his earlier teams that battled, but lacked enough talent to stick with Butler.
By Krystkowiak's account, the Bulldogs created one of those "certain exposures" of a team that occur during a season. The sudden upgrade of opposition clearly unsettled the Utes at the start even without Butler having to do much defensively. Lorenzo Bonam lost the ball while dribbling on their first two possessions, then Jayce Johnson threw an errant pass and Gabe Bealer and Tyler Rawson missed layups.
Even so, the Utes led 21-20 after Bonam's drive for a 3-point play and Devon Daniels' free throw. But then the Bulldogs responded with a 12-1 run and stayed in control.
Kuzma (21 points) and Bonam (17) produced the bulk of Utah's offense, functioning mostly on their own. At one stage, they had teamed for 28 of the Utes' 31 points.
Krystkowiak eagerly will await the posting of fall semester grades, potentially enabling the transfers to play Dec. 17 vs. Prairie View A&M, following final exams. As for the first real test of Utah's 2016-17 schedule, the coach's reactions to what he witnessed Monday said everything.
Krystkowiak stared at his guys after not-too-smart plays, locked his hands above his head in disbelief and made quick-hook substitutions during a predictable showing against a good opponent.
Ninety minutes after the game, though, Barefield was on the Huntsman Center court, doing his dribbling drills between cones, making shots and looking smooth in the process. Help is coming for Utah just a little too late for Butler's visit.