The University of Utah men’s basketball team didn’t make enough shots during a four-game losing streak, which it snapped Thursday afternoon via a 79-65 win over Stanford at the Huntsman Center.
The Utes didn’t make enough free throws, sometimes they didn’t rebound well enough, although their defense was plenty good in long stretches.
Larry Krystkowiak can coach his team up in all of those factors, but one thing the 10th-year Utah head coach can’t fix is effort. Before any of those other things happen, the Utes have to give effort and as far as Krystkowiak is concerned, his team has done that, even during the losing streak.
“The thing that I’m the most proud of, and this hasn’t been said a whole lot, we play really hard,” Krystkowiak said after his defense yielded just 35.4% shooting and outrebounded a big Cardinal lineup to the tune of plus-11. “Our team plays really hard and that’s not always the case for people.”
To help make his point, Krystkowiak noted that Utah lost a one-possession game to UCLA on New Year’s Eve, then contended, probably correctly, that an 18-point loss two days later at USC was closer than the final score indicated.
Krystkowiak’s team then defended well enough to win against Oregon, then again Monday against Colorado, but had no wins to show for those two efforts. Rather, it was left with a pair of blown 10-point halftime leads, a lot of questions and a lot of outside chatter.
Ultimately, Krystkowiak’s point is perfectly valid. Yes, Utah has played hard. The Utes have been far from perfect, but they have certainly offered sufficient effort, but life is tough when you’re playing, and losing, to a bunch of NCAA Tournament-caliber teams.
Stanford appears likely to live on, or at least around, the NCAA Tournament bubble for the remainder of this season. The Cardinal are big and physical at most positions and they have star power in senior forward Oscar da Silva and consensus five-star freshman Ziaire Williams. Stanford is not UCLA or Oregon, but it’s a good team that’s going to win a lot of games this winter.
That said, Utah again produced a strong effort and finally, after struggling all month, that effort morphed into a win.
Aside from the defense, Timmy Allen was terrific. After offering an impassioned defense for his team after the Colorado loss, the junior guard had 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists to lead four players in double figures. Sophomore forward Mikael Jantunen had 11 points and seven rebounds, while Alfonso Plummer and Branden Carlson, two players who are taking on new reserve roles with Krystkowiak shaking up his lineup before the Oregon game, combined for 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting.
Carlson, specifically, is beginning to come on after a slow start to the season. The 7-foot sophomore had 12 points, four rebounds and four blocks. The four blocks give Carlson a whopping 20 in three career games vs. Stanford after he blocked eight in each of last season’s contests.
“It’s something you can’t really coach, so big kudos to all our guys, man,” Allen said of Utah’s effort Thursday. “We just tried to set the effort and intensity early, and carry that for 40 minutes. I think we did a better job of finishing and being tougher for 40 minutes.”
Added Carlson: “If we don’t give it our all, we shouldn’t be out on the court. We have to come with the mindset, whether things are good or bad, that we’re going to give 110% each time.”
Continued good effort into the weekend may very well help Utah get a split of this four game homestand, which had been billed as critical after the struggles in Los Angeles vs. UCLA and USC.
Utah will close the homestand Saturday night against a Cal team that is missing high-scoring junior guard Matt Bradley. He missed his third straight game Thursday, an 89-60 blowout loss at Colorado, with what Golden Bears head coach Mark Fox has described as a “significant” ankle injury.