Utah Utes basketball notebook: Utes believe they can get on a winning track

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 30 2011 9:32 p.m. MST

Josh Watkins, Chris Hines, Jason Washburn and David Foster, (from left) the four returning players to the University of Utah basketball team Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — It's been a rough start so far for the Utah basketball team, which is off to its worst start ever, at least tying the worst starts in Ute basketball history with a 1-5 record.

The Utes also started 1-5 in 1988-89 in what turned out to be Lynn Archibald's final year as head coach. They also started 1-5 in 1972-73, Bill Foster's second year and in 1923-24 and 1925-26.

In each of those years, however, the Utes won their seventh games of the season to improve to 2-5, so a loss at Fresno State this week would be the first 1-6 start in Utah history.

Despite the slow start, Ute players are staying positive.

"We're going through a tough stretch right now," said Chris Hines, one of four returning players on the team. "We're young, but we know what we're capable of. We have 13 new guys — that's not an excuse, but we just need to keep working hard every day."

Another returning player, Jason Washburn, said he's used to playing with new teammates every year and believes things will get better.

"Losing's never fun," Washburn said. "We feel we can win games. It's always frustrating, but we're never going to hang our heads. I like our young guys — they've got to get used to Division I basketball and they improve day by day but they'll get it. We're going to keep getting better."

NEAR THE BOTTOM: As recently as the 2008-09 season, Utah was a top 20 team in the RPI rankings. Now they're on the verge of the bottom 20.

The latest RPI ranking put the Utes at No. 319 out of 344 college basketball teams.

The RPI rankings are quite skewed this time of year. Right now St. Mary's is No. 1 and Denver is No. 3, while Montana State, a team that beat Utah, is No. 336. However, if the Utes don't start winning soon, they'll be in the 300s for awhile.

UNLIKELY REDSHIRT: Utah's oft-injured center David Foster is sitting out with a broken foot that may sideline him until January and the middle of the Pac-12 season.

Because he hasn't used a redshirt year yet, that is still a possibility for the 7-foot-3 senior, but his coach thinks he isn't likely to go that route.

"I don't believe he's interested in redshirting," Larry Krystkowiak said. "He's got a baby on the way, and he's got his degree. For whatever reason hasn't had the best luck with health."

Foster had had injuries the past two years, but only missed two games in the 2009-10 season.

"The ideal scenario for us is for him to get back before six weeks left in the season and finish out his senior year in a productive manner and be healthy and give us a boost down the stretch," said Krystkowiak.

3-POINT WOES: One of the most glaring stats for this year's basketball team is the difference in 3-point shooting between the Utes and their opponents.

From 2-point range, the Utes are actually outshooting their opponents 50.9 percent to 49.3 percent with just eight fewer field goals on the year. From the free throw line, the Utes have made six more free throws than their opponents and are hitting a better percentage, 67.5 to 66.4 percent.

However in 3-point shooting, opponents have hit 26 more treys with 53 of 132 for 40.2 percent compared to Utah's 27 of 85 for 31.8 percent. That's 78 more opponent points.

When asked about it, Krystkowiak said the Utes don't have many good 3-point shooters and aren't rotating well enough on defense and getting back with "a sense of urgency."

"We don't have a lot of great shooters," he said. "Jiggy (Watkins) is scoring a large majority of our points and he's not a 3-point shooter. You look at a UMass team that shoots 20 percent and one guy went 5 for 5 and another 4 for 6. Those add up and build that negative ratio. It's defense and the fact that we don't make a lot of threes as a team. We're going to have to improve on that."

Hines has the most 3-pointers with 11 in 31 attempts, while Dijon Farr has the best percentage with 2 of 3.

UTE NOTES: After the Saturday afternoon game at Fresno State (2 p.m.), the Utes return home for four home games over a two-week stretch with games against Cal State Fullerton, BYU, Idaho State and Portland. … Surprisingly, the height-challenged Utes are outrebounding their opponents this year 32.3 to 32.2. …Josh Watkins not only leads the Utes in scoring at 18.8 points per game and in assists at 4.8 per game, but he is second in the Pac-12 in both categories. … In six games, the Utes have used four different starting lineups. Krystkowiak said he'll likely continue with the same one he used the last two games with Watkins and Hines at guards, Blake Wilkinson and Cedric Martin at forwards and Washburn at center.

Email: sor@desnews.com

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