Within Runnin’ Utes 0-8 Pac-12 road woes, bad starts have been overarching problem

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah bench celebrates Utah Utes guard Both Gach (11) who dunked on the Ducks in the second half. The University of Utah basketball team was defeated by Oregon, 64-69, Jan. 4, 2020, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Berkeley, Calif. • As the University of Utah men’s basketball team remains winless on the road against Pac-12 teams, one of Larry Krystkowiak’s stock answers on the situation continues to be that each game has its own storyline, or set of storylines.

Krystkowiak is correct in the sense that not all losses are created equal, but there is at least one overarching road storyline with these Utes, who are the third-youngest team in the country according to KenPom.com.

Too many times during an 0-8 record in Pac-12 road games, the Utes have looked completely unprepared to start a game.

“I don’t really have an answer for that,” said freshman center Branden Carlson, who had eight blocks Wednesday night in a 70-62 loss at Stanford, after registering eight blocks against the Cardinal in the first meeting between the two on Feb. 6. “It is tough in a different environment, not like a positive environment like when you’re back home. We just have to be mentally more ready for these games.”

Utah’s margin of defeat on the road vs. the Pac-12 is a horrific 17.4 points per game. That factors in Wednesday’s eight-point loss and a 56-52 loss to USC on Jan. 30 in Los Angeles. Taking even a cursory look at some of those eight losses will help tell the story.

On Jan. 12 at veteran, Pac-12-contending Colorado, the Utes trailed 14-2 at the first media timeout, by 22 at halftime, and lost by 39 points. Four days later at Arizona, they trailed by 11 at the second media timeout, by 22 at halftime, and lost by 16.

Utah endured long offensive droughts in the first half and never led on Feb. 2 at UCLA, a 16-point loss. A brief early lead at Oregon State on Feb. 13 didn’t last as the Utes trailed by 19 at halftime on their way to a 12-point loss. Three days later, Utah hung with then-No. 17 Oregon early, but it never felt like Utes were going to get over the hump. They trailed by 14 at the halftime and lost by 18.

Most recently, on Wednesday at Stanford, Utah turned the ball over nine times over the first 8:10 and trailed by 18 at halftime. The Utes got that deficit down to three late, then had multiple clean looks at a tying 3-pointer, but couldn’t get one to go down.

“I think everybody thinks that when you talk about playing hard, it’s only on one side of the floor,” Krystkowiak said. “We did a nice job. We would’ve held them to 19 points if we didn’t give them 15 off our turnovers [in the first half]. We didn’t screen when it was required, we didn’t use a screen and come off it like we should. We were passive on offense. The effort has to be better against good defensive teams.”

A Pac-12 team has not gone winless on the road since Oregon State and Washington both did so in 2017. On paper, Utah’s trip to Cal on Saturday appeared to be a reasonable spot for the Utes to finally get a road win, in part because they thoroughly controlled the Golden Bears in Salt Lake City, 60-45, on Feb. 8.

That optimism might have lessened Thursday night after Cal dismantled Colorado, 76-62, at Haas Pavilion for easily its best home win of the season. The Golden Bears are 11-5 at home, but in fairness, all of it has come against a combination of a weak non-conference schedule and the bottom half of the Pac-12.

In any case, this is the challenge in front of Utah. Finally get a road win, and do it against a team coming off its best home win of the season.

“We waited for them to act, which is not good, especially when you’re playing a good team like this on the bubble, looking to make a statement,” sophomore wing Timmy Allen said of Stanford. “We can’t do that. We have to make some adjustments before Cal.”

Utah at California

At Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.

Tipoff: Saturday, 4 p.m. MST

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: ESPN 700AM

Series history: Cal leads, 15-14

Last meeting: Utah, 60-45 (2020)

About the Utes: Utah got an early 18-point deficit down to three late Wednesday night at Stanford, but couldn’t complete the comeback, falling to the Cardinal, 70-62, at Maples Pavilion. Timmy Allen led four Utes in double-figures with 17 points, while Branden Carlson had eight blocks against the Cardinal for the second time this season … The Utes are 0-8 in Pac-12 road games. The last time a team finished 0-9 on the road was 2017 when Oregon State and Washington both did it. Washington State was 0-6 on the road in league-play as it traveled to Washington on Friday night … Both Gach broke a weeks-long offensive slump on Wednesday, scoring 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting. The 15 points represent his biggest output since scoring 24 points against Oregon on Jan. 4, while the 54.5% shooting from the floor is his best since shooting 6-for-12 vs. Oregon State on Jan. 2.

About the Golden Bears: Cal picked up its best win of the season on Thursday night, 76-62, over No. 21 Colorado in a game in which it never trailed. Sophomore guard Matt Bradley led all scorers with 27 points on 8-for-14 shooting and 5-for-7 from 3-point range … In the first meeting with Utah, Bradley had 13 points and seven rebounds, but was held to 5-for-13 shooting … Cal has lost five of seven, most recently registering a mystifying two-game stretch of a 35-point loss to last-place Washington and the win Thursday over the Buffaloes … Cal ranks last in the Pac-12 and 313th in scoring margin at minus-6.2, the only negative differential in the league.