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February 23, 2012Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak knew this week would be a tough one, with Cal and Stanford visiting the Huntsman Center within two days of each other to round out the 2011-2012 home basketball schedule.
Not as ugly as the first meeting with Cal, where the Utes lost by 36 on the road, Utah dropped Thursday's contest 46-60. The Bears, featuring impressive length as a squad, proved too much for the Utes, who were in the game early only because of Utah-winter-cold shooting by Cal, who missed six consecutive shots to start the game.
By and large, the Utes had to earn just about everything they got offensively, but did find themselves with opportunities, but could not convert on easy, wide open shots. Despite shooting 42.9% in the first half, Utah's missed shots were the ones they should have drained.
For the Utes, the shots simply were not dropping, as the old cliche goes, as the Huntsman Center crowd watched shot after shot bounce off the rim Thursday night. Particularly to start the second half, Utah went cold from the field after halftime, shooting just 2-10 over the course of the first nine minutes of the half, and just 7-25 (28%) for the half.
Despite the drought, Utah hung around, coming as close as X points on the spark of Blake Wilkinson's defense. Down 28-44 at the 14:41 mark of the second half, Utah went on a 9-0 run to cut Cal's lead to seven, but could not close the deficit entirely.
Utah would go on to miss its next five shots of the game and commit five turnovers in the final eight minutes, as Cal got back on track, converting on Utah turnovers and fouls to close out the game.
Utah saw three players score in double figures, with junior guard Chris Hines leading the way with 15 points, followed by Cedric Martin who added 11 and Jason Washburn with 10.
Happy with his team's defense for the most part, Krystkowiak lamented the offensive struggles his team has experienced throughout the last several games. Unfortunately, those struggles were made worse Thursday night by the 18 turnovers committed by Utah, resulting in almost no shot to win the contest.
"I thought [the game] got out of hand because we had eleven turnovers in the first half, and probably had nine in the first twelve minutes of the game," vented Krystkowiak. "Last time I checked, you can't score if you turn it over. Eventually it put too much heat on our defense."
Junior guard Chris Hines, who led the Utes in scoring with 15 points, summarized the performance succinctly.
"It's that simple," Hines explained. "You can't win with eighteen of them."
Defensively, the Utes ratcheted up their energy over the course of the last two games, holding Colorado to just 55 points, and Cal to 60 points, each respectively well under their season averages.
Utah, featuring some not previously seen presses and traps, held Cal's leading scorer Allen Crabbe to just three points. Crabbe, one of a trio of guards who, combined, make up the vast majority of Cal's scoring, averages 15.6 points per game. The prolific guard combo of Crabbe, Cobbs and Gutierrez average a combined 42.4 points per game, but were held Thursday night to just 20 points between them.
"Holding that team to sixty points, I would have hit the deal button on that one if you had told me that," said Krystkowiak. "We've just got to figure out a way to score. It can't be self-inflicted gun wounds, and that's what we're dealing with now. We're having a hard enough time scoring, and we're bringing it on ourselves."
Krystkowiak expounded on the Utes' offensive issues.
"We've got break-downs on execution. It seemed like tonight that there was always one person that just didn't quite understand what we were trying to do. We're only going to be as strong as our weakest link offensively," explained Krystkowiak. "Between that, the lack of execution and guys not thinking, along with the mindless turnovers, it's just an uphill battle for us."
Krystkowiak also pointed toward offensive rebounding as a key to Thursday's loss, though the Utes were out-rebounded 8-3 on the offensive glass, and 36-33 overall.
Center Jason Washburn took the lack of rebounding on his shoulders entirely.
"The rebounding, that's all on me. I just need to be better at grabbing the ball, plain and simple," conceded Washburn. The 6-foot-10 Washburn grabbed five rebounds, while Cedric Martin had eight, with Dijon Farr one behind, with seven.
Utah scrapped for most of the night on the glass, and in going for loose balls, but ultimately, Cal's quality of depth was the tipping point. Eleven Bears saw playing time Thursday, while Utah played nine.
Two of the nine, Blake Wilkinson and Alex Mortensen, are sporadic contributors, having played a combined 112 minutes all season long, and neither has made an appearance in several games. A third player, freshman Anthony Odunsi, saw heavy time early in the season, but only to watch his minutes fall drastically until last week's home loss to Colorado, where he approached his 14.4 minutes per game.
Utah drops to 5-22 on the year and 2-13 in Pac-12 play, and will host 18-9 Stanford Saturday at 6:30 PM at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in its final home appearance of the season. Utah dropped a close 68-65 to Stanford in Palo Alto in January.