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Utah Hoops - fixing the crunch time issue

Published February 20, 2014 8:06 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Delon Wright is without question one of the best players in the Pac-12.

But he's not the kind of player that will get you buckets in the last five minutes of games. That's not nearly a knock on him. He will score, rebound, assist, and be a defensive menace for you. But Utah's running into issues down the stretch because they haven't been able to get the one guy who can clear out and score for you.

Take Wednesday's loss to Arizona for example. Twice down the stretch the Utes took a one point lead. Both times, Nick Johnson calmly made 18 foot jumpers to give the Wildcats the advantage.

So that's where Jordan Loveridge comes in. In the last 1/3 of the season, he's got to step up and be that kind of player. He was against USC when his 3-pointer in the last two minutes gave Utah its first road win. He was to a degree against Arizona. He scored all seven of his points in the last three minutes of regulation and overtime. He took seven shots in that span.

But he took just four shots in the 35 minutes leading up to that point. And right now, Utah's lack of a go-to guy is costing them games. Wright is at his best going to the basket, slashing and getting to the free-throw line, where he shoots 80 percent. But teams in the last few weeks have been gapping him well, cutting off his driving lanes and forcing him to shoot. Eventually, those jumpers will start to fall. But they aren't quite yet.

If Wright develops into a better shooter from 3-point range, he may be the best player in the league. But gut feeling says that won't happen until he gets a full off-season to work on the jumper. Right now, Loveridge can shoot, put the ball on the floor and score at all three levels. He's not played well in the last three weeks, and hasn't been consistent. But he's still a viable option to make things happen.

The sooner the Utes develop an identity, the sooner they will start to reverse their trend of losing close games.

Tony Jones