Elaine Thompson, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — Officially, Utah enters Thursday’s home game against USC as the Pac-12’s second-best shooting team — connecting on 51.3 percent of its attempts from the field.
Lately, however, the Utes haven’t been so accurate. In last week’s losses at Washington and Washington State, they were a combined 35-of-97 — including a paltry 3-of-29 from 3-point range.
“I think we’re playing really hard defensively,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said after the close losses. “I think we’re a soft team offensively.”
Krystkowiak said that the Utes need to show a greater sense of urgency on offense and better follow the admonition he’s written on the board in the locker room to “make every cut a scoring cut.” Otherwise, Krystkowiak said, they’ll get what they deserve on offense — aka, less-appealing options. He said the Utes had nine missed opportunities at the rim in Sunday’s 49-46 setback at Washington State.
Utah’s shooting woes were especially evident in the second half. The Utes were just 4-of-20 from the field and missed all nine 3-pointers they attempted.
Sophomore guard Brandon Taylor said the cure is to simply get back in the gym and shoot more, shoot more and shoot more.
“You just go back to shooting,” he explained, while noting that slumps are a little bit mental and physical — requiring extra work to restore rhythm.
Taylor is confident the Utes will get their touch back. They’ve played only four conference games, thus far, and still have 14 to go.
“We’re too good of shooters for our shots to not start falling,” Taylor said. “So they’ll start falling as long as we put in the time and put in the work. Shooters shoot. Shooters shoot the ball.”
Team scoring leader Jordan Loveridge, who averages 16.4 points per game, thinks the Utes need to be more aggressive getting the ball to the basket.
“I feel like if we get some easy baskets (and) get out and run that will help us a lot — get our confidence back,” he said.
Getting guys in better position, he added, will help with timing and reduce the number of rushed shots.
Despite the struggles on offense, the Utes were in position to win both games last week — losing 59-57 at Washington and 49-46 at Washington State. Krystkowiak is hopeful that the setbacks will serve as learning experiences, especially with how things went down the stretch in both games.
“Hopefully we can mature and not make those same mistakes next time,” he said.
The first opportunity to do so comes against the only team that has yet to win a conference game this season.
USC (9-7, 0-3) comes to town on a three-game skid — having lost to Pac-12 foes UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona by a combined 73 points. Junior guard Byron Wesley, who averages 17.5 points and 7.7 rebounds, leads the Trojans in their first season under head coach Andy Enfield. He led Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 last season after his 15th-seeded squad upset Georgetown and San Diego State.
“I know it was a well-oiled machine and they were out having some fun,” Krystkowiak said. “That was the magical story from a year ago.”
Krystkowiak, though, doesn’t see a lot of similarities in terms of styles with Enfield’s new team.
“Different time, different place,” he said.
Even so, Krystkowiak said that USC presents a lot of tough matchups and is an athletic team that likes to get up and down the floor.
“Nothing’s going to be easy in this league as you can see with the scores. There are no easy games. Every night’s a different challenge,” said Krystkowiak, who added that the Utes have got to be a lot more tough-minded. “If we’re thinking about our confidence and things of that nature, I think that’s probably a bad place to start. Because you are typically going to make your own breaks and create your own confidence.”
Utah hosts 25th-ranked UCLA Saturday at 2 p.m.
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