By taking leads of 60-30 against Washington State and 51-23 vs. Colorado, Utah briefly resembled the 2014-15 basketball team that ransacked opponents at the Huntsman Center.
The comparison ends there, because the current Utes lack the finishing power of that team, and they’re not good enough to make the Sweet 16 or even the NCAA Tournament field. Merely finishing .500 overall and in Pac-12 play remains an ambitious goal.
After his team allowed Colorado to come back, Ute senior guard Sedrick Barefield said, “That’s something we’ve got to learn from. … We relaxed a little too much.”
Yet even if they failed to dominate those opponents for the full 40 minutes, the Utes deserve credit for removing any doubt about the outcomes of two games they were supposed to win, including Sunday’s 78-69 defeat of Colorado. That’s a good trait in their development, and they’ve moved into a four-way tie for fourth place in the Pac-12 after about 30 percent of the season.
The question becomes whether Utah (9-8, 3-2) can stay in the middle tier of the conference. The kenpom.com analytics and ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rank the Utes No. 10 in the Pac-12, although the latest BPI projection of an 8-10 league record is more favorable than ever.
-Timmy Allen’s all-around game is impressive. An old expression summarizes the freshman forward’s ability: He’s not a shooter, he’s a scorer. Allen scored a season-high 21 points Sunday, adding 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals.
He’s adept at scoring inside and drawing fouls, but rarely attempts an outside shot, with an awkward-looking stroke. If Allen develops his shot, as coach Larry Krystkowiak believes he can, he’ll become an All-Pac-12 player during his Utah career.
-Coaching centers Jayce Johnson and Novak Topalovic must be frustrating. They competed defensively and battled for rebounds, combining for four blocked shots and 12 boards against Colorado. Offensively, they struggled, teaming to go 0 for 7 with what looked like seven very makable shots around the rim. The Utes will need more production from them to beat better opponents.
-The Pac-12's scheduling rotation is Utah's biggest obstacle to a winning record. The Utes this week will play their only games of the season vs. Stanford and California. Regardless of what happens on the road, Utah would have two likely victories if those teams came to the Huntsman Center.
Cal is winless in the conference, evoking this historically frightening fact: Two teams (USC in 2011-12 and Oregon State in 2016-17) have gone 1-17 in the Pac-12 in this decade, beating only Utah.
Player of the game
Allen earned Utah’s nomination for Pac-12 player of the week, with another versatile performance. Krystkowiak likes having him on the court, that’s for sure. Allen averages a team-high 34 minutes in Pac-12 play.
Runner-up: Barefield. As well as the Utes played defensively in the first half, Barefield’s 17 points (including five 3-pointers) were vital to their 41-19 lead. He finished with 22.
Play of the game
Both Gach’s assist to Allen. The play came during Utah’s flurry of steals, part of a 25-4 run. Gach stole the ball and could have dunked himself, but he tossed it off the backboard to Allen for a dunk. Gach’s flair was unnecessary, but it was an unselfish play and his teammates loved it.
As a package, Stanford/Cal offers the Pac-12′s best opportunity for a road sweep. There’s a distinction between the programs, though. Stanford (9-9, 2-4) is respectable, judging by a home win over Arizona State (85-71) and a road defeat of Washington State (78-66). Krystkowiak is 0-5 at Stanford, where the Utes play Thursday.