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December 8, 2011Utah dropped to 1 - 7 Wednesday night after losing 81-50 in a lackluster effort to visiting Cal-State Fullerton. Immediately Utah fell into a 14 point hole, as Fullerton's first three shots were from beyond the arc to go up 12 points.
Utah started cold, and failed to play perimeter defense against the three, and it never recovered. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak expressed concern about his team's tendency to fall behind early in games and how difficult it is to come back from early deficits considering his team's own challenges and shortcomings.
"One thing that needs to happen is we need to have a defensive focus from the beginning [of games]. We didn't really start getting energized until we made some baskets," Krystkowiak observed. "Then you see a little different look in our guys' eyes.We have to understand that from the opening tip, we have to fight."
His Utes did fight back to within seven points at the five minute mark of the first half, but could not chip into the Titan lead further. With chances on three consecutive defensive stops, Utah was unable to convert any points in the pivotal stretch, and ended the half down 43-26.
"I know there was a point where we got to within seven points, and then they went on a 6-0 spurt," Krystkowiak recalled. "I know we didn't execute on a play offensively, and defensively and it cost us at both ends."
The fight slowly seeped out of the Utes after that, as the Titan lead snowballed.
"It's OK, maybe, to make one mistake but the thing you have to eliminate is the mistake at the other end so it doesn't become a four-point play," the first year head coach said. "That's what's been adding up on us. You can point to, the other night, we had a five point lead and we turned the ball over and they went on a 12-point run. We have to learn the value of every possession."
Indeed, the mistakes piled up and by early in the second half, there was a distinct feeling that the game was already lost.
A lack of execution led to a low-scoring offensive production, but it was the defense, or lack thereof, that troubled Krystkowiak most.
"We've completely simplified everything. What I wrote on the board from a defensive point of view was about intensity, and guarding your guy," he explained. "This morning at the shoot around, we just said 'we want you to play really hard'.
The bottom line Wednesday that Utah didn't play hard enough, something the new coaching staff is going to own, and address.
"It's going to be on the coaching staff now, to find a way to get the five guys ready to play," said Krystkowiak.
Senior Chris Hines led Utah with 12 points, hitting four shots from three-point range. Junior center Jason Washburn scored 11 points and pulled down 7 rebounds.
Both were visibly upset in post-game interviews, but like true senior leaders, they talked calmly about sticking together as a team, hard work and not giving up.
Both took responsibility for the team's overall performance and lack of energy.
"We've got to come out with more energy and more fire," said Washburn. "It starts with me. I'm the guy that brings the energy, and keeps the crowd into it. I don't think I did a good job of it tonight, so I'll take it on me."
Without the requisite energy, Utah was out-rebounded 45-18, but minimized turnovers to just seven for the entire game. Fullerton had 14 turnovers, 21 assists and shot 56.9% for the game and 45.8% from three.
Minus leading scorer Josh Watkins, the Utah offense had opportunities to score, but ultimately didn't with a series of completely missed shots.
"Jiggy's a big part of the team, so it hurt not to have him out here," said Chris Hines.
Watkins has been suspended indefinitely, but the Utah coaching staff is meeting Thursday morning to discuss and decide the which of the guidelines Krstykowiak and company set up fro him.
Some progress has been made, however, as moments of the game displayed good decision making, ball-handling with Ute players making the extra pass and hitting open players.
Unfortunately for the Utes, it didn't make a difference as many shots missed their target. Jason Washburn had 11 points and seven rebounds while true freshman Kareem Storey scored ten points, snagged three rebounds and dished out six assists.
Up next for Utah is BYU who travels the short distance from Provo to Salt Lake City Saturday.
Center Jason Washburn downplayed the importance of the rivalry, while acknowledging how much it means to his fellow teammates.
"It's important because being a Michigan guy, I know what rivalries are, and they're a big deal, " he said. "This one is one of the best in the country, so if we can't get up for this game, I don't know what we can get up for.
Without an improved all-around performance, the Utes' prospect of beating their arch- rival, BYU, Saturday is slim.
There is some disappointment associated with the Utah defense, which, in spite of all else, seems to be a weak spot for the 2011 season.
"I was a pretty surprised that our hands were down. One of the simplest things we do and talk about is to put our hands up," said Krystkowiak.
Typically the opposite is true, with defense fueling offense. In this case, however, Krystkowiak departs from the norm as the Ute defense seems to run on offensive scoring and/or possessions.
Without any real answers to their current problem, the Utes plan to just forge boldly ahead with roughly the same game plan, etc.
As mistakes abound for the Utes, the plan is to keep playing, keep practicing and keep getting better.
In order to do that, Krystkowiak simplified everything for his team, and the result in changing up the game plan hasn't yet produced results.
"I changed my game plan and approached it completely different," he said. "Like,' hey, we're back on the play-ground now. You didn't have a playing scheme, you didn't have coverage you didn't have this, you just didn't want to lose. I was hoping to get back to that, and it didn't happen."
What's next for Utah in the midst of the frustrating stretch of the season looks to be more of the same; keep working hard, keep teaching and keep pushing.
"We're just not going to stop. There's still mistakes that we're making that [the team] can do a better job of. We'll keep tinkering with it and trying to find a way to get them ready to go to start the game," explained Krystkowiak. "But it's obviously got to change, and it's on the coaching staff to make sure that happens."