The Utes sit one game under .500 almost two-thirds of the way through the Pac-12 schedule, and they’re hoping to find help in the form of their home court.
Utah hosts Stanford at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Jon M. Huntsman Center —– the late Jon M. Huntsman Sr. will be honored before tipoff — and the game marks the start of a seven-game stretch, which includes five home games, to close the regular season.
The Utes (13-9, 5-6) sit tied for seventh in the Pac-12 Conference standings along with Arizona State and Colorado entering this week. That trio are within three games of third-place Washington (17-6, 7-3) in the conference standings and within two games of 10th-place Oregon State (11-11, 3-7).
“I still think we can finish in the top four in our conference and receive that bye,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “That’s a significant goal, I think, to have.”
After splitting road games against the Arizona schools in arguably their strongest week of the season two weeks ago, the Utes fell flat at Colorado despite having just had their longest period of rest since final exams in December.
The Utes never led after the first 2 minutes of the game and trailed by as many as 21 points on a day when they registered more turnovers (14) than assists (13). They shot 35.1 percent from the field, the second-worst shooting game of the season, and scored a season-low 55 points.
An inability to make perimeter jump shots proved their undoing as they went just 7 of 23 on 3-pointers. The Utes have made an average of 9.6 3-pointers per game and shot 38 percent during Pac-12 play.
“We had 20 points at half, and that’s just not like us,” Utes senior guard Justin Bibbins said. “So we’ve got to find another way — besides the 3 — to score, and when we’re not scoring on offense, keep locking up on defense and not let that up. I feel like in the second half we let up on the defensive end.”
Eight of the Utes’ 13 wins this season have come at home. They’ll also play five games against teams currently ahead of them in the conference standings or with the same record.
The Utes, who begin this week ranked 56th in RPI, likely can’t afford many, if any, more losses if they want to keep hopes alive for an NCAA Tournament berth.
“Well, do the math,” Krystkowiak said. “If we beat Stanford and then we’ve got Washington ahead of us, that’s a road game. Then the three teams that we finish off with at home are all top-100 teams. I can’t control who is looking at our résumé. That’s silly to even think about. If we take care of business, then we’ll be in the discussion. If we don’t, then we won’t.”
STANFORD AT UTAH
Tipoff • 6 p.m. Wednesday
TV • FS1
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Stanford 13-11, 7-4; Utah 13-9, 5-6
Series history • Utah leads 19-13
About the Cardinal • Stanford enters this week having won back-to-back games against Oregon and Oregon State. Stanford scored 96 points against Oregon on Saturday. Senior wing Dorian Pickens scored a game-high 25 points in that win. … Redshirt senior Reid Travis, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward, leads the team in scoring (19.5 points per game) and is tied for the lead in rebounding (7.7 per game). He has shot 53 percent from the field this season. … Freshman guard Daejon Davis has started all 22 games he has played, and he has averaged 10.4 points and 4.8 assists per game.
About the Utes • Utah will try to bounce back after losses to Arizona and Colorado. The Colorado loss Friday marked Utah’s lowest-scoring game of the season (55 points). No player for Utah scored more than 8 points in the loss. ... Sedrick Barefield ranks second in the conference in free-throw shooting percentage (90.6 percent), while Justin Bibbins ranks sixth (85.3 percent). Bibbins also ranks among the conference leaders in 3-point shooting (43.6 percent) and 3-pointers per game (2.6 per game). … The Utes rank second in the league in scoring defense (70.8 ppg) and third in 3-point field goal percentage defense (34.3 percent).