There won’t be many fond memories of the latest trip to Los Angeles for the Utes, at least not from their time on the court. A dinner date with former Ute and current Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma probably will go down as the high point of the excursion.
In the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s loss at USC, the week that included back-to-back double-digit losses seemed like a blur to several Utah players and coach Larry Krystkowiak. They knew they needed time to figure out what just hit them, and they needed to get the heck out of LA.
“We just didn’t have our mojo,” Krystkowiak said. “We need to get back home.”
The Utes (10-7, 2-4) find themselves having lost their past four Pac-12 Conference games after starting 2-0 with a road sweep in Oregon. They stood toe-to-toe with the Arizona schools for the most part, and they fell one carom away from potentially beating a nationally ranked Arizona State team.
Then they went to southern California and their defense started to show deficiencies that weren’t nearly as glaring in previous games. The alarming trends that the Utes appeared to have cleaned up — ill-timed turnovers, forced shots and slow starts — crept back to the forefront in losses at UCLA and USC.
“We just need to figure it out,” Utes senior guard Justin Bibbins said after Sunday’s game. “I haven’t looked at the film yet. I’m going to look at it. I have no idea [what happened], but we’re going to figure it out and get this thing rolling again.”
Bibbins scored 19 points in the second half, and his team shot 62.5 percent from the field after halftime. They made 7 of 11 3-pointers and cut down on their turnovers from the first half. They made nearly as many free throws (eight) and USC attempted (nine). The Utes outscored their hosts by seven points after halftime.
That all still added up to a deficit of as many as 28 points in the second half and ultimately a 17-point defeat.
The Trojans did irreversible damage in a 46-point first half in which they made 9 of 15 3-pointers. That came just days after the Bruins backcourt took turns filling up the basket as Aaron Holiday, Kris Wilkes, Prince Ali and Jaylen Hand combined for 64 points and made 10 of 17 from behind the 3-point line.
“It’s the defense,” sophomore center Jayce Johnson said. “We really got to focus on our defense the next two practices we have. We’re going to take off Monday, you know, look back at what happened and then forget about it and just focus for Washington. We really have to focus on how good we are on D, and the offense will come.”
The Utes have something resembling a full bench for the first time since the first month of the season. Forward Chris Seeley has returned from gallbladder surgery. Freshman Donnie Tillman showed more explosiveness Sunday than he did in his initial return from his foot injury. Johnson missed the UCLA game due to illness but still turned in his best individual game of the season.
Now that they’ve got lineup options, one of Krystkowiak’s main objectives will be to get this group to play with a hard edge it sorely has been lacking.
“I think we’re a little on the soft side of the meter,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve probably been a little bit closer to the soft end of things than the real tough end of things. Our guys will get challenged. We’ll have a good week of practice, I hope, and get ready to go.”
WASHINGTON AT UTAH
When • 8 p.m. Thursday
Where • Huntsman Center
TV • Pac-12 Networks