SALT LAKE CITY — The post-Jiggy era got off to a rough start for the University of Utah. Arizona handed the Utes a 77-51 setback Thursday in their first game without Josh Watkins, who was dismissed from the team earlier in the week for violating unspecified team rules.
True freshman Kareem Storey started in his place at point guard and netted 10 points and six assists before fouling out after 25 minutes of action.
His role, though, isn't necessarily that of a floor general. In an effort to avoid putting too much pressure on anyone and to make the offense more versatile, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak and his staff are working on two-guard entries.
It's a work in progress as the Utes (4-14, 1-5) face Arizona State (6-12, 2-4) this afternoon in the Huntsman Center.
Adjusting to life without Watkins, who led the team in scoring, assists and steals, is almost like working with a new roster. Such was the case in Thursday's loss to Arizona.
"I think it's just kind of getting our feet wet and getting a feel for it," Krystkowiak said while noting the Wildcats were a pretty good ballclub to face in opening the new era.
Utah, however, managed to stay competitive until Arizona pulled away with a 20-2 run in the second half.
Krystkowiak isn't satisfied with moral victories, but acknowledged the Utes were "right there" at 35-32 before the decisive outburst by the Wildcats.
"I don't think it's a step back or a step forward. But it was kind of a necessary step," Krystkowiak said. "We just have to kind of see what's next."
In preparing for the Sun Devils, Krystkowiak planned to break down film and find a way to make the offense flow a little easier. The Utes shot just 32.5 percent (8 of 25) in the second half against Arizona. They wound up with only eight assists in the game.
Improving the defense is also a priority. The Wildcats made 12 3-pointers and shot 57.7 percent (15 of 26) over the final 20 minutes.
"We've got to continue to play harder defensively to have a chance," Krystkowiak said.
Utah is 4-5 at home this season and in danger of having a 37-year run of winning records in the Huntsman Center come to an end. Besides ASU, the Utes will play host to Oregon, Oregon State, Colorado, California and Stanford.
The Sun Devils come to town on the heels of a 69-54 loss at Colorado on Thursday. They're expected to be without leading scorer Trent Lockett for the second consecutive game. The junior guard, who averages 13.9 points per game, didn't play against the Buffaloes because of a sprained ankle.
Utes on the air
Arizona State (6-12, 2-4)
at Utah (4-14, 1-5)
Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City
Saturday, 3 p.m. MT
TV: none Radio: 700 AM
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company