Utah lost two tough games in Arizona this week, losing in overtime by one to ASU and by three to Arizona. While there is a lot to like about this team and there is improvement, there are no moral victories. It was especially frustrating to see the Utes lose in the same way they have lost all year. In previewing the Arizona game on the Pachoops blog, I talked about Utah's failure to score in the clutch:
Utah is successful when it controls the tempo. If Utah can control the tempo and keep the game in the 50s or low 60s, it has a chance to keep the game close. Utah did a good job controlling the tempo in its overtime loss at ASU. But Arizona knows how to win games. Utah doesn’t. Even if Utah manages to keep the game close, these simple facts will make the chances of a Utah victory in the range of slim to none.
This has been the story of Utah's season. When it controls the tempo and keeps the game in the 50s, it has a chance to win games. But as Coach Krstyko stated after the game, the players have to make shots. I don't know if any player on this team will become the go-to guy that can make clutch shots. I liked the looks into Washburn at the end of the ASU game. And I didn't have a problem with going to DuBois at the end of the game in Tuscon. Unfortunately, the shots haven't fallen and the Utes can only keep working hard and keep improving. I think eventually Jordan Loveridge will be the clutch guy for Utah, but it just hasn't worked out yet.
On the bright side of things, Jason Washburn played beautiful basketball this weekend. He is really benefiting from playing under Coach Krystko. Washburn's offensive game has improved because he has learned to face up to the basket and can hit an outside jumper within 15 feet. And when he does have his back to the basket, he has really perfected his foot work on the spin move. He is also rebounding well and has really improved his defense. If he continues to play as well as he did this weekend, Utah will continue to stay in games.
Utah also benefited from having Cedric Martin back in the lineup. He plays solid defense, keeps defenders honest on offense, and doesn't turn the ball over. He is the ultimate "glue guy," and Utah is a better team with him on the floor.
One area where Utah can really improve (besides running its offense in clutch situations) is defensive rebounding. The Utes got killed on the boards in Tuscon, and gave up some offensive rebounds in clutch situations against ASU. One reason Utah struggles on the boards is that the Utes switch a lot on defense and a lot of smaller guys end up having to box out big guys. It will be interesting to see if Utah makes any adjustments to its defense to help with rebounding. While shots don't always fall, Utah's players can control whether they box out and rebound. Eventually the shots will fall, but Utah has to continue to play defense and has to start rebounding better if it hopes to improve in Pac 12 play.
One last point: there is a fine line between being demoralized by close losses and being encouraged by playing well on the road. These road games are hard games to win and the Utes are improving. I haven't seen this team get down yet, and I don't expect them to get down after this tough weekend. Utah has a great opportunity next week against UCLA and USC. These are both winnable games and I look forward to seeing how Utah comes out at home after the tough losses last weekend. I expect the fans to come out and support this team. I see good times ahead for the Runnin' Utes.