SALT LAKE CITY — After Saturday's 71-62 loss to sixth-ranked San Diego State in the Huntsman Center, Utah men's basketball coach Jim Boylen pinpointed what he believes is troubling the Utes.
It's been a problem throughout the team's current six-game losing streak. As a matter of fact, it's been a cause for concern in all nine of their losses this season.
The common thread, Boylen explained, is 32-34 good minutes per game and 6-8 minutes where the Utes have been outplayed, didn't execute or guard their opponents.
"That's where this team is at right now," Boylen said after Utah dropped to 7-9 overall and 0-2 in Mountain West Conference play.
Putting 40 minutes together certainly would have helped in the latest setback. The Utes held a 34-33 halftime lead over the undefeated Aztecs and trailed by just one point, at 57-56, with eight minutes remaining.
It didn't take long, though, for that to change.
In a span of less than three minutes, San Diego State extended its lead to 12 points en route to becoming the nation's first team to up its record to 17-0 this season.
"You have to give San Diego State credit. They made the plays," Boylen said. "They were able to separate from us by making big shots and big plays."
The Aztecs pulled away thanks to nine late points by guard D.J. Gay, a three-point play by Malcolm Thomas and a basket from Kawhi Leonard.
Utah had a chance to tie and/or take the lead before the outburst, but came up empty on a free throw and two shots from the field. The misses ushered in what proved to a decisive drought of 3:21 down the stretch.
"I thought they manhandled us the last seven minutes on the boards," Boylen said. "It's humbling to say that. But they've got seniors in there beating on us and we've got freshmen in there trying to beat on them. That's kind of where it's at."
The Aztecs, who outrebounded the Utes 43-40, were led by Leonard, Gay and Thomas. The trio teamed for 55 points and 27 boards.
"Sometimes when we got a shot, we got a second shot," said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher. "Even a bad shot is a good shot when you're looking at the alternative."
Utah was paced by Josh Watkins' career-high 24 points and Will Clyburn, who had a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman J.J. O'Brien also grabbed 10 boards.
The Utes, however, felt they tried to do too much individually in the closing minutes.
"Until we learn from it we are going to get the same results," Clyburn said.
Utah hasn't won a game since edging Boise State, 86-84, on Dec. 17. Even so, the Utes remain somewhat confident.
"I feel we're a great team. We're right there to beat anybody in the nation," Watkins said. "We've just got to come together at the end of games."
Boyle insists the Utes are close to doing so.
"I really feel that in my heart. This team likes each other and works hard," he said. "If you like each other and work hard, I think good things will come your way, but we've got to breakthrough."
In the meantime, Boylen acknowledged that each loss represents a missed opportunity.
The next chance to stem the tide comes Tuesday at home against a nationally ranked BYU squad.
"It's a big challenge for us," Boylen said while adding that the Utes will be ready. "We respect them and we'll prepare well."
GAME NOTES: The attendance was 8,571. ... Senior Jay Watkins did not play because of back spasms. ... Utah Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor attended the game. ... San Diego State has now defeated Utah three consecutive times, a first for the Aztecs. ... The Utes are now 29-4 against SDSU in the Huntsman Center. ... After making 24-of-45 3-pointers over the past two games, Utah connected on just 4-of-15 on Saturday.
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