Tempe Ariz. • This time, the offense traveled.
This time, Utah made shots, ran its plays smoothly, scored at the rim and got to the free-throw line. Still, this is the story of a another difficult-to-swallow Ute road defeat, instead of how Utah went into Arizona State and walked out of Wells Fargo Arena with a victory.
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During the first trip of the season — losses at Washington and Washington State — the Utes were bad offensively. They fixed that Thursday night but still came away with the same result. On Friday, following Thursday’s 79-75 defeat, Ute players spoke of the frustration of not being able to climb a mountain that seems so close and far away at the same time.
"Of course it’s frustrating," sophomore guard Brandon Taylor said. "We played well, and we feel like we’re so close to getting over the hump. It’s hard to know that we shot well and that we played well enough to win, but we lost."
On the surface, the issue is easy to assess. Despite playing well on offense, Utah played maybe its worst game of the season on the other side of the ball. Arizona State shot a high percentage. Jahii Carson — en route to a game-high 23 points — got into the lane seemingly anytime he wanted. The Utes couldn’t get stops when it counted. They coughed up a nine-point lead and had chances to make life difficult for Arizona State.
Looking deeper — however — Utah is still a very young team, and played like it during large stretches. For example, with 1:30 remaining in the first half, the Utes had a 41-33 lead and the ball with the chance for a double-digit advantage. Delon Wright kicked the ball away, and ASU got a transition layup. On the next possession, Marko Kovacevic committed an offensive foul. Then Shaquielle McKissic hit a jumper at the halftime buzzer.
Instead of a cushy 10-point lead, Utah went into the break with a 41-37 advantage. Though an advantage, it could have been much greater. Little things such as that prevent teams from winning on the road, and the Utes still haven’t shown themselves capable of doing the little things. Not yet.
"We hurt ourselves with some turnovers," sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge said. "It’s something that we have to work on and get better at."
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said playing on the road requires playing the perfect game. His theory is sound, at least in terms of the Pac-12. The Utes are 0-3 away from the Huntsman Center in conference play. Those margins of those three defeats total nine points. It means Utah is currently good enough to compete with teams away from home. It also means they currently still have a lot of work to do.
"If we want to win on the road, we have to be a lot sharper and a lot cleaner," Krystkowiak said. "We can’t have the lapses that we’ve had. We can’t say that we’re young; that’s an excuse. We just have to be better."
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