Bleeding Red: Dual-personality Utes keeping it interesting

Utah plays like Jekyll then Hyde
Flailing after hitting their stride
A thin line divides worst from best
Yes, welcome to the wild, wild, west

COMMENTARY – Twenty-five games down (including 12 conference games), and only five games left to play in the regular season. Let’s take a look at the last two games before we put the season thus far into perspective and look ahead to what remains on the schedule.

utesIn the first 10 minutes of the game at home against Washington State, Utah fell behind by 10 points, played 10 different players, committed five turnovers, and was 3 for 3 from the charity stripe. The Runnin’ Utes then turned it around to claim their own 11-point lead with two minutes to play in the first half (which would prove to be their biggest lead of the game). After shooting 0-8 from distance in the first half, they went 2-7 beyond the arc in the second half. Down the stretch, Utah was 5-6 shooting free throws in the last two minutes and held on for a four-point victory.

Notwithstanding the win, head coach Larry Krystkowiak was not pleased after the game. While acknowledging some improvement in communication among the players, he frankly noted, “but it wasn’t a communication issue to start the game, it was some crappy basketball.”

Even after seemingly getting on track, the Runnin’ Utes just could not put the Cougars away.

“I thought we did a little disrespecting of the game in the second half,” Krystkowiak said. “You kind of get what you deserve when you disrespect the basketball game. There were some good stretches and really ugly ones.”

Reminiscent of the Washington State game, in the first 10 minutes of the Washington game, Utah had seven turnovers, committed five fouls, and went nine players deep into its bench. When asked about calling a timeout after Washington’s early run, Krystkowiak responded, “I didn’t say much. There wasn’t a whole lot to say. It was pretty ugly. I thought I was on an episode of bloopers, Punk’d.”

It was the turnovers that bothered Krystkowiak the most.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak | AP Photo

“There are different kinds of turnovers,” he said. “I can tolerate an illegal screen, a three-second call, maybe someone gets trapped. That is the type I can handle. It’s the ones where you look like you are point shaving and throwing balls to the opposition to let them take off and go the other way. It’s mindless stuff. Those ones I have a problem with. Between myself and the team, we are going to try and get that element fixed.”

After leading briefly to start the game, the Runnin’ Utes soon found themselves down by eight points after the Huskies went on an 8-0 run. However, Utah answered with its own 20-0 run and led by double digits for the remainder of the game.

Krystkowiak did go out of his way to thank the fans who continue to show up to support the team, and gave the fans reason to keep the faith.

“I appreciate all the people coming out and watching us,” he said. “The product is not exactly sharp right now. We got things and made a few plays, but we have some issues that we need to solve. They are solvable though.”

Sometimes I wonder if the Runnin’ Utes peaked too soon, because at times they appear to be regressing. Maybe it is not so much that Utah is actually regressing as they are just not stepping up their play at the same level as other teams in the conference, who are finding their stride as post-season play approaches.

When you look at the last 10 conference games, the Runnin’ Utes were playing very well over the first five of those, including blowout wins over USC, Washington State, and Washington, and a near-miss against UCLA. However, the last five games have revealed very uneven play by Utah, including challenging wins over Oregon State and Washington State, and losing both games on the Bay area road trip.

The Runnin’ Utes are playing very well in some areas. Utah is second in the conference in scoring offense, fourth in scoring defense, and third in scoring margin. The Runnin’ Utes also lead the conference in rebounding margin. However, for such a high-scoring offense, Utah ranks eighth in 3-point field goal percentage and ninth in free throw percentage. It also ranks eighth in assist/turnover ratio and ninth in turnover margin.

Neverthless, the Runnin’ Utes remain firmly entrenched in the top half of the Pac-12, currently tied for fifth place with the Trojans.

Even though the bottom six teams in the Pac-12 all have losing conference records, the records only tell part of the story. On any given night, any random matchup of Pac-12 teams could produce a very exciting and close game or a blowout.

For example, Stanford claims the dubious distinction of being the only Pac-12 team to have both won a conference game by 30 points (30-point win over Washington State) and lost a conference game by 30 points (39-point loss to Arizona) all within an 11-calendar day period. USC was undefeated in non-conference play, but opened 3-4 in conference play. Colorado lost its first seven conference games, and then in its ninth conference game, handed Oregon its first conference loss.

I can’t wait for the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas starting in less than a month on March 8. Currently, it looks like the Pac-12 will get five teams into the Big Dance — Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, California, and USC. Odds are Utah will be on the outside looking in, licking its wounds in the NIT (perhaps with a chance to win it?). But there are still five conference games to go for the Runnin’ Utes before we get to postseason play.

Next up is another road trip at Oregon on Thursday (tipoff at 7 p.m. MT on ESPN), and at Oregon State on Sunday (tipoff at 6:30 p.m. MT on ESPNU).

Here’s hoping the Runnin’ Utes have a better road trip this week than they did their last time out to the Bay area.

Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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