Timmy Allen doesn’t say a whole lot, but the University of Utah’s All-Pac-12 junior guard said plenty Monday evening following the Utes’ 65-58 loss to Colorado at the Huntsman Center.
After his team’s fourth straight loss, after it blew a 10-point halftime for the second time in three games, Allen took a seat in a makeshift interview room in the bowels of the Huntsman Center, across the hall from the home locker room. The first question to Allen centered around what the message to his teammates in the middle of what is becoming an increasingly difficult stretch to stomach.
Allen, who played in his 69th career game on Monday, by far the most on the roster, offered strong conviction, not to mention an impassioned defense of his teammates and where this program is right now.
“People might write us off, or not believe in us, or say we don’t have enough, but these last four games, we have been right there, and we let it slip,” Allen said after scoring a game-high 19 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. “I think we’re really right there. People can jump ship, but as long we stay bought-in on this, and we continue to work and grind, I think we’re right there. I’m definitely not happy with the loss, but we didn’t play great and our defense kept us in it. We just have to keep with the flow.
“I believe, man. I think we’re right there.”
On one side, all four opponents during Utah’s four-game losing streak — at UCLA, at USC, vs. Oregon, vs. Colorado — are legitimate Pac-12 contenders with growing NCAA Tournament resumes. On the other side, Utah needed to find a way to close out at least three, maybe all four of those opponents because Allen is correct. The Utes were right there in all of them, whether it be at the end of the game, or deep into the second half.
Losses to the Ducks and Buffaloes over a 40-hour span took on similar, but not identical circumstances. In each game, starting a defensive-minded lineup, Utah got the better of play on both ends in taking 10-point halftime leads. In each game, the opponent came out of the halftime locker room as the aggressor.
The culprit on Saturday night against Oregon in the second half was turnovers, which haven’t been a major detriment this season for the Utes (4-5, 1-4 Pac-12). Monday’s primary problem was getting hammered on the glass to the tune of minus-18, while the Buffaloes (9-3, 3-2 Pac-12) hauled in 15 offensive rebounds.
Colorado scored the first 15 points of the second half to take a 42-37 lead with 14:31 to play. The Buffs, who traveled to Salt Lake City on short notice after the Pac-12 altered the schedule thanks to COVID-19, never trailed again and the game was never tied again.
“In league play, you gotta be tough, and you gotta be tough for 40 minutes,” Allen said. “We can’t be the responder in the second half like we have been. We don’t come out strong enough. Those first four minutes set the tone for the rest of the half, and we have to be better. Every team is going to watch the film, they’re going to come out hard, so we have to improve.”
After the losses to UCLA and USC, this current four-game homestand felt like a fork in the road. Either the Utes make some hay against Oregon, Colorado, Stanford and Cal to begin looking like a capable outfit, or they don’t and the season quickly begins to go south. Utah may have been close against the Ducks and Buffaloes, but losses are losses and how much easier this homestand gets is up for debate.
Like the programs Utah has already lost to on this streak, the Cardinal (8-3, 4-1 Pac-12) believe they can contend at the top of the conference, while putting together an NCAA Tournament-caliber resume. They come through on Thursday, followed by Cal on Saturday.
The Utes may avoid Golden Bears star junior Matt Bradley (ankle) this weekend, but no opponent feels like a given at the moment, nor should it.
“I don’t know exactly what the good lord has in mind for us here, with already a difficult year,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “Two on the road, two at home. I’d say maybe two-thirds of our basketball has been really good. A third hasn’t, we come out with four losses, and it’s going to check our perseverance and stick-to-itiveness.”