Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah showed something in Saturday's 61-42 loss to BYU in the Huntsman Center. The Utes displayed proficiency in an area that head coach Larry Krystkowiak wasn't sure they had — the ability to play hard.
"They showed us that they have that skill," he said. "So they've raised the bar a little higher and now I can expect them to play harder more consistently."
Although his team is now 1-8 on the season with eight straight losses, Krystkowiak acknowledged feeling 10 times better about things.
"If we're going to go down, we need to go down swinging and I felt like at least we gave that an opportunity to happen," he said.
The Utes showed energy that Krystkowiak hopes the team will build upon. They grabbed 21 rebounds in the first half, three more than in the entire game against Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday.
"We may be an underdog in every game we play this year from the Las Vegas bookies," Krystkowiak said. "(But) there is no game on our schedule right now that we shouldn't come in and just fight like dogs to begin with on both ends of the floor and give ourselves a chance."
Unlike their 81-50 loss to the Titans — when the Utes fell behind 14-0 in the first three minutes — they jumped out to an early 5-1 advantage over the Cougars. BYU missed its first six shots from the field and turned the ball over three times during the early run.
Although Utah eventually surrendered its lead on a 3-pointer by Craig Cusick with 12:16 to go in the first half, the Utes managed to hold BYU to 38.8 percent shooting from the field.
"We played hard. We laid it all on the line. This is one of the games where you know the outcome doesn't show it, but we played real hard," said senior guard "Jiggy" Watkins. "Unfortunately we didn't make enough shots, but that will come. The defense improved and we felt like we laid it all on the line."
Utah trailed 25-17 at halftime and never drew closer than four points in the second half. Even though they managed to keep the final score somewhat respectable (at least in comparison to the Fullerton game), the Utes weren't acknowledging any sort of moral victory in the setback. Krystkowiak said that would be ridiculous.
"Hopefully we got a little taste of what it feels like to actually play the game harder and we can build off of it," he explained.
Watkins also found a silver lining, overall improvement.
"We know we can play 40 minutes of basketball now. Coach wasn't sure if we could come out with the intensity we did — and we did," he said. "We showed we had it and we've just got to come out with that intensity from now on and we'll win some games."
Utah returns to action Friday at home against Idaho State.
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