Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Where has the Mental Toughness Gone?

Utah's play last weekend concerned me. It is one thing to lose when the other team has a lot more talent. Or when the other team gets hot and can't miss, no matter how well you guard. But last weekend, the Utes showed a conspicuous lack of concentration and mental toughness.

Two statistics, one from each game, tell me that Utah's collective mind was not in either game last weekend. In the Stanford game, Stanford out-rebounded Utah 41-27. Rebounding is all about effort and concentration. Stanford was hungry and focused. I really do not know how to describe Utah's effort except to say it was weak on both ends of the floor.

In the Cal game, Utah had 15 turnovers in the first half, and 17 for the game. Many of them unforced. The two point guards, Dean and Taylor, combined for six. And Jordan Loveridge had six by himself. Cal did not do much to force these turnovers. Utah played sloppy, and it cost them the game.

Finally, in both games, Utah had break downs on defense that I have not seen this season.

I can not explain the lack of concentration for both games last weekend. Utah had a great opportunity to get some momentum after beating Washington in Seattle. Cal and Stanford are good, but not great, teams. Perhaps Bachynski's personal struggles reflect larger problems with team chemistry. Perhaps the kids are tired. Being a college basketball player is hard and maybe the kids have just hit the wall. Perhaps Coach Krystko is still learning how to manage that aspect of being a college coach. I do not have any inside knowledge and I have not observed any obvious problems. But for the first time in Coach Krystko's tenure, I did not perceive that Utah's players gave their best effort. And it happened two games in a row. And it happened after their best win in Pac 12 history.

Before the game, Stanford assistant Coach Mark Madsen commented to Bill Riley that his team was hungry. They had just been beaten by 21 points in Boulder. He stated that the loss motivated the Cardinal and he expected a good effort against the Utes. And Stanford played an excellent game against Utah. I am curious to see how Utah responds on Saturday against the Buffs. Will Utah be hungry and fight for a win? Or will Utah falter under the adversity it has faced? Losses can be deflating and 31 point losses in front of 3000 home fans can be devastating.

On Saturday afternoon, we'll see what the boys are made of.

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