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The Runnin’ Utes are afraid to shoot — and that’s not good late in the season

The Runnin’ Utes are afraid to shoot — and that’s not good late in the season

(Ivy Ceballo, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Reserved. Unselfish. Timid. Hesitant. Afraid.

Any one of those words — and likely more — could summarize the recent failings of a young Utah team that is looking to gain any sort of stability as of late in a roller-coaster season.

Utah is hesitant to shoot the ball.

There, it’s been said. The confession is now out in the open for all to read.

It was distinctively apparent Thursday night in an 11-point loss to UCLA — a game in which Utah trailed by as much as 20 points — but it’s been apparent in games Utah has won, too.

Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said Thursday night his team needs a little more “dirty and nasty from time to time,” and that the problems are “encompassed by the word toughness, and we just need to take on a little bit more of an edge.”

To borrow from the late Kobe Bryant, Utah lacks a “Mamba Mentality.” It’s the unflinching competitiveness to be the best on the court and to take charge of a game. With three weeks left in the season, Utah is still on the prowl for someone to consistently take over games and bring that toughness Krystkowiak spoke about.

Utah is playing a style of basketball that is a little too unselfish. For a young team, there’s not a lot of selfishness or guys wanting to go ISO on opponents; instead, the team passes too much and turns down decent looks. Krystkowiak said they’re also missing on opportunities to get the entry pass into the post.

“Our offensive production is about, I guess if you're doing the math, is about 40% better when we get a post touch,” Krystkowiak said. “And I thought we played on the perimeter an awful lot. We didn't throw the ball into guys when we should have. And that combination, it hurts us to not get those opportunities.

“It's the same philosophy if you take bad shots, which we don't take very many of; it's just as costly when you don't take the good shots when they present themselves, and it ends up really shooting us in the foot. Some of that is some confidence, some of that's really good defense on their part — they kind of speed you up, and that's where some of those turnovers came from. We’ve got to play with a little bit more poise.”

But it’s not a team-wide problem. Guys, as evidenced by Alfonso Plummer Thursday night in a team-leading 16-point performance, bring the toughness and intensity each game. Plummer, to stay with the example, has no problem passing the ball but isn’t afraid to take the shot when the opportunity presents itself, and it paid dividends against UCLA as he led a charge in a late-game run.

“That's what I do,” Plummer said Thursday night. “They recruited me to shoot, so I'm not gonna be afraid to do it. But I don't know. We'll have to talk about it in the locker room. We'll see what happens.”

Plummer’s effort impressed Krystkowiak, who said he’s potentially looking at ways to retool the lineups to help maximize Utah’s talent while bringing in guys that have a little fight in them.

“This isn't the point of the season to worry about hurting anybody's feelings. We've got to put guys on the floor that are ready to produce and commit to it,” he said. “At this point, it might be time to shake a few things up, see if guys are better coming off the bench.

“I trust that there'll be some changes. It's not a threat; it's just something I think we need to evaluate.”

But until that changes, Utah is looking at four more difficult games — USC, Stanford, California and Colorado — to close out the season before the Pac-12 Tournament begins on March 11 in Las Vegas. And with the team needing to peak to have any shot at extended postseason play — the NIT — time is running out.

“We need to scratch and claw,” Krystkowiak said. “This isn't a pity party for anybody, playing or not, and we've got to get out there and take on a little different mentality, I think, and know that we've got to grind harder than we were.”

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Josh is the Sports Director for and beat writer of University of Utah athletics — primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.


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