Another blown Utah hoops opportunity puts Larry Krystkowiak on the defensive

Utah finishes its four-game homestand at 1-3, with all three losses featuring blown double-digit halftime leads

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes forward Timmy Allen (1) takes the ball to the basket as California Golden Bears forward Kuany Kuany (13) defends, in PAC12 Basketball action between the the Utah Utes and the California Golden Bears, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2021.

Credit to Timmy Allen, because he got directly to the point late Saturday night.

The University of Utah basketball team, 48 hours removed from its best showing of the season against a Pac-12 contender in Stanford, blew a 12-point halftime lead to Cal and lost, 72-63, at the Huntsman Center. The Utes finished a four-game homestand at 1-3, with all three losses featuring blown double-digit halftime leads.

Saturday’s loss was clearly worse than the other two against another couple of league contenders, Oregon and Colorado. The Golden Bears entered the night rated 159th by KenPom.com. They hadn’t won a road game all season, and were missing their leading scorer, All-Pac-12 junior guard Matt Bradley, for a fourth straight game.

“If we can beat Stanford, we can beat anybody, and if we lose to Cal, we can lose to anybody,” Allen said after scoring a season-high 26 points on 8-for-15 shooting to go along with six rebounds and five assists, but also seven turnovers. “I just think that’s the approach we have to come into practice with and into the games with. Can’t take anything lightly, can’t be complacent and we can’t get comfortable. We’re not good enough to do that and it clearly shows.”

Allen did not believe the Utes (5-6, 2-5 Pac-12) took a step backwards on Saturday evening. Before the junior guard spoke his mind, his head coach, Larry Krystkowiak was asked whether or not he believed his team took a step backwards.

“We’re not taking steps, that’s the nature of a season,” Krystkowiak said. “Each game has a different story. A loss is definitely not a step forward, but I think the key for our team is to learn what we can from this experience. We’ve got to grow in a lot of different areas, and I’m fine with taking a step back because I know we’re not going to win every game. As long as we take a couple steps forward this week, that’s the key to me.”

Krystkowiak was then asked about his team’s effort, at which point he took umbrage with the line of questioning that was unfolding.

Utah just played four games in eight days, the byproduct of the Pac-12 tweaking the schedule after its Jan. 6 game vs. Oregon State getting postponed with the Beavers having COVID-19 trouble. Of the four, Oregon and Colorado are among the class of the Pac-12, with Stanford not far behind. That unquestionably qualifies as a gauntlet.

“Not to make an excuse, but we just played four games in a week,” Krystkowiak said. “That doesn’t happen very often in college basketball. If there were a few shots that came up short, or maybe we didn’t quite have it, I’d maybe like to chalk it up to having a hell of a challenge ahead of us.”

Krystkowiak ended that defense by saying there aren’t too many teams that played four games from Saturday to Saturday.

OK, but for what it’s worth, Colorado just played four games in 10 days, including an impromptu trip to Utah, and won them all. Among those four wins were Oregon and Stanford.

In any case, Krystkowiak going with the four-games-in-eight-days defense is a tough sell. If the Utes were not in position to win those three games, one could maybe lean on the scheduling quirk, but that doesn’t play given the fact they led both Oregon and Colorado by 10, and Cal by 12 at halftime, then coughed up all three leads as part of losses.

The end result is a 1-3 homestand, with a real case to be made that it should have been 4-0. Instead of being 5-2 in the league and maybe building a postseason resume, the Utes are 2-5 and going back on the road, where they haven’t won a Pac-12 game since Feb. 23, 2019 at Washington State.

Coincidentally, the Utes are in Pullman on Thursday before playing at Washington on Saturday.

“I’m not taking anything away from Cal, but let’s be realistic about what we’re talking about, talking about taking steps back and energy of our guys,” Krystkowiak said. “I’m going to step up and stand up for them because that schedule is not normal.”