Alfonso Plummer has oftentimes been a bad practice player for the University of Utah this season.
Coach Larry Krystkowiak will tell you that, and even Plummer, a JUCO All-American last winter at Arizona Western College, will offer that self-evaluation. That was a problem earlier this season because, as Krystkowiak will tell you, practice is the sample size he is using when he’s deciding who he wants to put in a game.
Plummer’s practices started out iffy, and maybe they still are, but his habits have steadily improved this season, and when it’s game-time, the Puerto Rican-born junior shooting guard has been unafraid to step forward and try to make something happen for the Utes.
That was again on display Sunday as Plummer, coming off 16 points in 17 minutes on Thursday night against UCLA, followed that up with 18 points on 5-for-11 shooting in 24 minutes to help the Utes defeat reeling, NCAA Tournament bubble resident USC 79-65 on Sunday afternoon at the Huntsman Center.
Sophomore guard Timmy Allen added 21 points and 10 rebounds, flashing one of those games where his aggression and assertiveness make him one of the Pac-12′s underrated all-around players.
“I’ve always thought you’re going to play as you train, and we’re going to have to ask you to be on point when you make a bunch of mistakes in practice,” Krystkowiak said. “[Plummer]'s proven that when the popcorn’s popping, he really enjoys the opportunity, and he gets out there and does his job. Some of that is a little bit of the learning curve, but it’s a part of the process."
“I’m kind of lazy sometimes in practice,” Plummer said through a smile. “I have to get better on defense because sometimes, I’m just lazy and won’t finish the plays. Right now, I’m just trying to focus and get better on both ends and help this team win.”
The win may have come at a significant cost. After Allen missed a layup just ahead of the final media timeout, the action quickly went the other way with Trojans redshirt senior guard Daniel Utomi leading the fast break. Rylan Jones hustled back, stepped in front of Utomi in the lane and drew his third charge of the game. Utomi came down on Jones’ left leg as the freshman point guard writhed on the ground in pain.
After the Huntsman Center fell silent, Jones got to his feet and was helped to the Utah bench while putting little or no pressure on the leg. Krystkowiak had nothing to offer postgame on Jones’ status.
Compounding this issue is the fact the Utes (15-12, 6-9 Pac-12) have a short turnaround. They are slated to travel to Northern California on Tuesday ahead of playing Stanford on Wednesday night at Maples Pavilion.
Jones has started all 25 games he has played in. The one game he did not play in, Dec. 14 vs. Weber State, was started buy Jaxon Brenchley.
“I know he’s going to be fine, he’s a tough kid,” said Allen, who has stated on more than one occasion this season he believes Jones is one of the best freshmen in the Pac-12.
After Jones left the floor, with Utah holding on to a 67-62 lead, the play out of the stoppage saw Branden Carlson kick the ball to the right corner from the opposite block. Plummer hauled in that pass ands calmly buried his fifth triple of the night to ice the game and send the Trojans (19-9, 8-7 Pac-12) to their fifth loss in seven games.
USC played with Nick Rakocevic and Jonah Matthews sick with viruses, and Isaiah Mobley hobbled by a sprained ankle. The Trojans came into Sunday on the right side of the bubble, but losing to the Utes did them no favors with Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA coming to finish the regular season, even if all three games are at the Galen Center.
• Alfonso Plummer scores 18 points on 5-for-8 shooting from 3-point range as four Utes finished in double figures as part of a 79-65 win over USC on Sunday evening.
• Utah is now 11-2 at the Huntsman Center this season.
• Timmy Allen has 21 points and 10 rebounds in the win.