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SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been a consistent theme for the University of Utah this season: the road has been a cruel place to play. As a result, team efficiency has suffered.
On Saturday, Utah dropped its third game of the season, losing to in-state rival BYU 77-65, snapping a three-game winning streak over the Cougars and an important non-conference RPI-building game.
And while a rivalry game is generally a heated contest between two teams that refuse to back down, Utah lacked a sense of urgency and purpose in the loss.
“It’s been our MO in big games like this — coming into an environment like this against a quality team, you’ve got to be a lot more dialed in, got to make more plays,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said following the loss.
Utah was without one of its best players in freshman Donnie Tillman, who suffered a sprained left foot prior to the matchup. Krystkowiak said Tillman’s presence was a notable absence given his physicality and general sense of urgency, but “there are no excuses.”
“We got our butts beat and didn’t deserve the win,” Krystkowiak added.
The Cougars shot incredibly well behind the 3-point line, making 10 out of its 20 shot attempts to secure the win. Utah would cut the lead to 5 points a couple times in the second half, but the Cougars weathered the opposing runs and answered with either a 10-0 run or an 8-0 of their own to keep the Utes at bay.
And while the Cougars “gave us what we deserved,” Krystkowiak said, it was the “self-inflicted gunshot wounds” that did Utah in. Utah lacked good ball movement, played rushed, had a relatively non-existent post presence and turned the ball over too many times in key stretches of the game.
BYU’s Elijah Bryant made Utah pay on defense, serving up three uncontested 3-pointers in the first half, on a season-high 29 points. Krystkowiak said the 3-point defense was a major problem and topic of discussion at halftime, but Bryant then hit back-to-back 3-pointers to jumpstart the second half for the Cougars.
BYU’s Payton Dastrup would hit two clutch 3-pointers in the second half to add to Utah’s misery, speaking nothing of Yoeli Childs’ physical play and 15-point performance in the win.
All in all, Krystkowiak said Utah was trying to go about winning the game in an independent way and not as a team. “We don’t have a team that can do it independently, we’ve got to do it collectively and we’ve got a ways to go,” he said.
As has been the case in Utah’s road games this season, the lack of urgency and attention to assignments and detail has been a major area of weakness. Against the Cougars, Utah played its third worst game in terms of defensive efficiency, allowing 114.5 points in 100 possessions. Utah’s two worst defensive performances this season were against UNLV (119.9) and Butler (119.1) — both of which were losses.
But defense was not the only area of weakness for the Utes, who only scored 65 points in the loss, ranking it the second lowest scoring of the season. Offensively, Utah had its third lowest eFG%, finishing at 50.9 percent. Once again, Utah’s two worst shooting performances in terms of eFG% came against UNLV (36.7 percent) and Butler (50.8 percent).
In Utah’s seven wins this season, they’re averaging a 57.1 percent eFG%; whereas in their losses, Utah averages 46.1 percent. That translates to 1.156 points per possession in wins and 0.935 points in losses for the Utes. Defensively, Utah gives up 1.175 points per possession in losses and only 0.883 points in wins.
It’s easy to see that the road brings out a different Utah team. But based on the performance Saturday, the Utes are no closer to solving their road woes than they were following the UNLV loss, which is a concerning trend for a team looking to make an impact in Pac-12 play.
With only one game left in non-conference play — a home game against Northwestern State on Wednesday — Utah has little time left to solve its road woes. Utah opens up Pac-12 play on the road facing an always tough Oregon team — ranked 47th according to KenPom — before a bout with Oregon State.