The University of Utah men’s basketball team has enjoyed great continuity within its starting lineup this season.
Rylan Jones, Timmy Allen, Both Gach, Riley Battin and Branden Carlson have combined for 122 starts in the 124 games they have collectively played in. The only other Utes to start games this season are freshman point guard Jaxon Brenchley (six) and redshirt freshman forward Lahat Thioune (two).
The Utes (14-12, 5-9 Pac-12) did not have a good showing for most of the first 36 minutes of a 69-58 loss to UCLA on Thursday night. They were outshot, outrebounded, sometimes outhustled. Down as many as 20, the Utes got to within seven with 1:44 left, thanks in large part to the shooting of Alfonso Plummer, who finished with 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting in just 17 minutes.
Early in his postgame press conference, the topic turned to a potential lineup shift. Larry Krystkowiak was not shy in his response.
“At this point, it might be time to shake things up, see if guys are better coming off the bench,” the ninth-year Utes head coach said. “I really like the way guys competed tonight. I think Fonz [Plummer] showed me something, Mickey [Mikael Jantunen] showed me something. We just have to get a little dirty, a little nasty from time to time.
“Everybody needs to stay connected and I trust there will be some changes. It’s not a threat, it’s just something I think we need to evaluate.”
Attention now turns to Sunday and USC (19-8, 9-6 Pac-12) to see if Krystkowiak and his staff follow through. However, with Krystkowiak unlikely to have had a chance to really digest much of what went on over the previous two hours before meeting the media, him singling out Plummer and Jantunen made sense.
Plummer’s minutes and role have fluctuated this season, but he competed hard on Thursday night. The former JUCO All-American, recruited to Utah as a knockdown shooter, was just that, hitting 3-of-6 from deep. Plummer is only shooting 32.9% from 3-point range for the season, but when he gets it going, he can be a difference-maker for a stagnant offense.
Jantunen is shooting 70% from the floor. If you eliminate his 4-for-13 from deep, that number rises to 75.9%. His defense and rebounding need improvement, but Jantunen knows what he’s doing at the rim at 6-foot-9 and generally doesn’t try to be what he isn’t.
For what it’s worth, Jantunen (plus-7) and Plummer (plus-5) were the only Utes to play to a positive plus-minus rating on Thursday night.
“The second half, about the last third of the game, there were some guys that showed me some stuff,” Krystkowiak said. “We competed and that’s what we need to do. We need to scratch and claw. This isn’t a pity party for anybody, playing or not. We’ve got to get out there and take on a little different mentality, and know that we’ve got to grind harder than we were.
“I love all of our guys. I think everybody is in it for the right reasons. We’ve got a lot of high-character guys, but this isn’t the point in the season to worry about anybody’s feelings. We have to put guys on the floor that are ready to produce and commit to it.”
USC at Utah
At the Huntsman Center
Tipoff: Sunday, 4 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700AM
Series history: Utah leads, 21-18
Last meeting: USC, 56-52 (Jan. 30, 2020)
About the Trojans: USC woke up Friday morning still on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, but with work still to do following a 70-66 loss at Colorado on Thursday night. Freshman star Onyeka Okongwu led four Trojans in double-figures in Boulder with a game-high 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting in 32 minutes … In the first meeting between USC and Utah back on Jan. 30, the Trojans overcame a nine-point second half deficit for a 56-52 win. Okongwu was held in check, relatively speaking, but Nick Rakocevic picked up the slack, finishing with 16 points and 15 rebounds. His put back off an Okongwu miss at the rim broke a 52-all tie with 18 seconds left … USC has lost four of six, including twice against the Buffaloes and a road sweep at the hands of the Arizona schools.
About the Utes: Utah suffered just its second home loss of the season, and first since Jan. 4, on Thursday night at the hands of surging UCLA, 69-58. The Utes shot just 43.8% from the floor on 21 makes, including 3-for-12 from 3-point range … JUCO transfer Alfonso Plummer was a bright spot for Utah, finishing with 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting in just 17 minutes … Plummer and freshman forward Mikael Jantunen were the only Utes to play to a positive plus-minus rating on Thursday night … In Utah’s last four losses dating back to a 73-57 defeat at UCLA on Feb. 2, the Utes have yielded at least 69 points. That is on par with the fact the Utes are ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 69.8 points per game.