Utah men's basketball coach Jim Boylen knows his team is improving. The defense is where he wants it to be, the rebounding is better and he believes the offense is coming around as well.
The frustrating part is the improvement hasn't translated to wins, an aspect that probably bothers fans more than Boylen.
"That's basketball," he said. "My job is to evaluate the team and are we getting better. Those things are stamped as correct when you win, but that is the game of life we live."
The Utes have won just two of their last seven games, but the stretch included the toughest teams in the league. Utah pushed BYU at home, lost in overtime to New Mexico and nearly had a win at San Diego State on Saturday.
That loss to the Aztecs, when the Utes briefly had the lead late but lost it in a flurry of free throws my the Aztecs and missed shots by the Utes, highlights what has to be next in the Utes' development when it comes to playing well in the most meaningful moments.
"We had opportunities to win the game and didn't take advantage of it," he said. "We made poor decisions at the end. We had a non-penetrating foul by [ Luka ] Drca that gave them the lead back. That was a mistake by a veteran player, and our ability to score, Jay Watkins had two good looks and didn't score."
The good news for the Utes is their schedule looks easier to finish the season with games against Air Force, Wyoming, BYU and Colorado State remaining.
"Our margin for error has improved some, but we still need to do everything right to put ourselves in a chance to win games," Boylen said.
Hitting a wall?
Boylen admitted he was concerned about the endurance of his center, David Foster , who is averaging 22.7 minutes, 4.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.4 blocks a game.
Foster's production has fallen off in recent games. He hasn't scored in the last two games and had four blocks and four steals in 24 minutes against the Aztecs, and two blocks and three rebounds in 27 minutes against UNLV.
The Utes could try to limit his minutes to give him a respite and use Kim Tillie and Jason Washburn more.
"He has given me everything he has," Boylen said of Foster. "He has played through fatigue and injury. To me, he is the Defensive Player of the Year, it's not even close with the way he blocks shots and alters teams' offenses and his presence, but we have to watch him here down the stretch."
The Utes are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Jon M. Huntsman Center with '70s Night on Saturday when they host Wyoming at 4 p.m. The Huntsman Center hosted its first game on Dec. 1, 1969, when Utah beat Stanford 96-94. Promotions will include '70s-themed giveaways, music and a four-minute "History of the Huntsman Center" video at halftime.
Wednesday, 6:30 p.m, The Mtn.