SALT LAKE CITY — A 9-4 record would feel a lot different than a 7-6 record right now for the Utah men's basketball team. The Utes may not have expected to win the Diamond Head Classic championship in Hawaii last week, but they did expect to at least win a couple of games.
However, after a hard-fought loss to eventual tournament champion Butler in the first round, the Utes came up empty in the next two games against host Hawaii and San Diego.
The losses left coach Jim Boylen "frustrated" and his captain "disappointed, but not discouraged."
The Utes had several reasons for their losses last week including turnovers (14 per game), defense (too many uncontested opponents' shots) and rebounding (too many offensive rebounds allowed). However, what hurt the Utes more than anything was their inability to make shots.
In the three games, the Utes shot 37.1 percent from the field, 16.9 percent from 3-point range and 64 percent from the free-throw line.
If the Utes had just matched their season averages of 44.2, 31.8 and 72.6 going into the tournament, they probably would have won two games in Hawaii. No one is more aware of that than Boylen.
"When you don't make shots, it's hard," he said. "We've got to make our free throws and open shots. Finishing plays at the rim is a big focus for us. We didn't make free throws and finish plays at the rim."
The problem is the Utes don't have many good outside shooters on this year's team. Will Clyburn has been the most consistent, shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point range. But he was below his season averages in Hawaii, particularly at the foul line, where he was 17-of-25 (68 percent) after coming into the tournament at 80 percent.
Among the other "outside" shooters on the team, Josh Watkins is shooting 42.6 percent, Chris Hines 38.6 percent, Shawn Glover 35.5 percent, Chris Kupets 35 percent and Antonio DiMaria 31.3 percent. From 3-point range, the fivesome's numbers are 24.1, 33.3, 21.6, 19.0 and 23.1 percent, respectively.
"We've got a young team with a lot of new guys and we just have to keep working," said Jay Watkins, the captain of the team and the only senior. "We've had a few bumps in the road, but we're not discouraged. We just have to keep getting better every day."
GETTING HEALTHY: The Utes have been plagued with injuries over the past couple of years, but they can't use that as an excuse for their two most recent losses. The Utes were at full strength even if each player wasn't 100 percent.
Freshman J.J. O'Brien returned to the lineup in Hawaii after missing nine games, and Jay Watkins played after sitting out the Butler game. Also, David Foster hasn't missed practice in more than a month after missing the majority of practices in the preseason.25 comments on this story
"I've seen an improvement." Foster said. "I've been able to practice every day for three weeks, I definitely see a benefit. When you're not practicing, your game struggles."
"It's a day-to-day thing," Watkins said of his back problems. " I'm going to have it all year. I'm going to play through it the best I can. I'm going to keep playing hard and bring energy to help the team win."
UTE NOTES: The Utes will play their second straight West Coast Conference team this week at the University of Portland on Friday at 5 p.m. MST. Three years ago, the Utes played a New Year's Eve game against a WCC team, Gonzaga, on the road. ... The Utes jump into league play with two Mountain West Conference games next week at Air Force on Wednesday and at home against No. 7-ranked San Diego State on Saturday afternoon. Jan. 8. ... Despite their free-throw shooting woes of late, the Utes are ranked No. 2 in the MWC in free throw shooting at 70.6 percent. Utah ranks No. 1 in the league in blocked shots at 5.5 per game. The Utes are last in field goal percentage, assists, steals, turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio.