Utah’s Timmy Allen breaks out of shooting slump as his offensive game continues to evolve

University of Utah sophomore wing Timmy Allen began this season on an offensive tear. In nine of the Utes’ 12 non-conference men’s basketball games, he shot at least 50% from the floor.

Twenty-three points and 11 rebounds to open the season at Nevada, 19 points and 10 rebounds vs. Minnesota, 27 points on 12-for-20 shooting in an overtime win against BYU, 25 points on 8-for-15 shooting in a seismic neutral-court win over then-No. 6 Kentucky all stand as examples of the Mesa, Ariz., native at his best.

Once Utah (14-9, 5-6 Pac-12) entered Pac-12 play, things started changing. If Allen wasn’t already at the top of opponents’ scouting reports, he was now. Double teams came more often, defenses collapsed on dribble-drives.

Once the Pac-12’s leading scorer, Allen’s shooting numbers dipped and at times, Utah’s half-court offense has struggled. With Allen operating in prosperity and with defenses keying on him, how he handles it will continue to help determine how well or poorly the Utes’ offense plays.

“Some of it is self-inflicted, putting a lot of heat on trying to score,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got a lot of numbers internally that we’ve run on it. He’s going to garner double teams and encounter a lot of size at the rim. It’s not easy at the rim. I think you’ve seen some glimpses where he gets under control, he draws those people.”

Allen, who busted out of a weekslong shooting slump Saturday night with 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting in a win over Cal, is not lightning quick with the ball in his hands. His first step, though, is effective.

When Allen puts the ball on the deck, he does so aggressively and is strong enough to power his way inside. There have been plenty of instances this winter in which Allen will get into the lane with the ball, stop, and be in no man’s land, in the lane, but not at the rim. An opposing big man will have slid over to help on defense, maybe even two defenders will have collapsed, and Allen will have to navigate that traffic to get rid of the ball.

“Everyone plays kind of different,” Allen said Saturday night after Utah completed a home sweep of the Bay Area schools. “It’s usually a double where someone’s coming on the bounce, so I just try to make the right play. Coach always preaches make the play that’s available, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Times like that speak to the need for Allen to keep evolving as a smart decision-maker. To that end, Allen had a season-high eight assists at UCLA on Feb. 2, although Krystkowiak later noted it should have been closer to 12. He has had six other games with at least four assists. One blemish on what has been another otherwise strong, All-Pac-12 type of season for Allen is that he’s carrying a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, and his turnovers are up compared to last year.

In fairness, Allen is playing a lot more than last season, has the ball in his hands more, and is shouldering a lot more responsibility for this radically young Utes team compared to last season.

“It’s still a work in progress for us, but he’s a guy that can generate double teams,” Krystkowiak said. “When he gets in that mindset, to find that blend I think is the big thing.”