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Runnin’ Utes to close regular season vs. Colorado in search of answers defensively

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes forward Timmy Allen (1) is pressured by the Oregon defense. Allen had 19 points and 11 rebounds. The University of Utah basketball team was defeated by Oregon, 64-69, Jan. 4, 2020, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

The University of Utah men’s basketball team lost in overtime at Cal on Saturday. This particular defeat was especially frustrating on multiple levels.

For one, freshman point guard Rylan Jones suffered a concussion and was lost for the day at the first media timeout. Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said Jones was “a ways away” earlier this week as Utah prepared for Saturday’s Senior Day matinee against Colorado. Secondly, the Utes were there at the end against the Golden Bears, but couldn’t close the deal before falling in overtime.

Upon returning from the Bay Area Saturday evening. Krystkowiak gave his players two days off before reconvening on Tuesday. When Krystkowiak met the media Tuesday morning, hours before his team was to practice, he was in a reflective mood.

His measured take on the previous week, which also featured a close loss at Stanford, was as simple as it was obvious. Utah (15-14, 6-11 Pac-12) has been an inconsistent, often-bad defensive outfit.

“I enjoy teaching, but I also think I’m at the point right now where we can’t keep talking about the same things because it becomes futile when we can’t absorb that information and implement it,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s just a matter of consistency. It can’t be a sometimes thing, it has to be an all-the-time thing. We can’t decide to not run back. Sprint back on defense like that’s the most-important possession in the game. We have to get a stop and we’ll have three guys jogging back on defense.”

Krystkowiak’s feelings are supported by statistics. Through Wednesday’s games, the Utes ranked last in the Pac-12 and 203rd nationally out of 353 teams in scoring defense at 70.2 points per game. Their field-goal percentage defense sits at 43.8%, which is 11th in the Pac-12 and 226th nationally. Utah’s numbers defending the three-point line are no better, but what can Krystkowiak and his staff do about it at this point?

The Utes are 29 games into the season. Saturday vs. Colorado represents the regular-season finale, then the scene shifts to Las Vegas where they will play a first-round game at the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday.

Krystkowiak knew going into this week that running his team into the ground at practice was not a good idea. At this late juncture, unless Utah has a significant collective epiphany, the defensive trouble might not get much better.

“We’re at that point where we can only watch so much more film, we can only practice and try to get tougher here in the next week,” Krystkowiak said. “This isn’t a wear-you-down kind of week as you head into Vegas, knowing if you’re fortunate enough to win games there, it’s a short turnaround. This is the mental time of year and we’re going to have to look a lot more down the stretch like defense is important to us. That’s my biggest takeaway from the last couple of days, just kind of getting away. It’s going to have to be a lot of want-to.”

COLORADO AT UTAH

At the Huntsman Center


Tipoff: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: ESPN 700AM

Series history: Utah leads, 17-14

Last meeting: Utah, 91-52 (2020)


About the Buffaloes: Colorado is safely in the NCAA Tournament, it’s now just a matter of seeding. The Buffs have lost three straight and four of six after looking like one of, if not the best teams in the Pac-12 for most of January … Colorado is coming off a 72-64 loss at Stanford, in which it shot just 42.6% from the floor and 25% from three-point range … The Buffs are currently in a three-way tie with USC and Arizona State for third in the Pac-12 with the top-four teams receiving first-round byes at the Pac-12 Tournament next week in Las Vegas. Colorado has the tiebreaker over both schools after sweeping respective season series … In the first meeting vs. Utah on Jan. 12 in Boulder, senior point guard McKinley Wright IV had 16 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in a 91-52 victory.

About the Utes: Utah is coming off getting swept by the Bay Area schools, 70-62 at Stanford and 86-79 in overtime at Cal. The Utes finished 0-9 on the road against the Pac-12 this season, making them the first team to do so since 2017 … Freshman point guard Rylan Jones, who was already dealing with a shin injury, suffered a concussion at Cal. Larry Krystkowiak said Tuesday that Jones is still “a ways away” from playing. Classmate Jaxon Brenchley is likely to get the start in Jones’ place … The Utes are 11-2 this season at the Huntsman Center. One loss was to then-No. 4 Oregon, 69-64, on Jan. 4, the other was to surging UCLA, 69-58, on Feb. 20 … Utah can still finish anywhere between 8-11 in the Pac-12. It will open the Pac-12 Tournament Wednesday in a first-round game, but the opponent is still TBD.

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