TUCSON, Ariz. — Saturday’s 60-57 loss at third-ranked Arizona was the latest in a series of close setbacks for the Utah Utes this season. Their six defeats have come by a combined margin of just 22 points.
“It’s a fine line and hopefully we can learn from it,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “Maybe some teams aren’t in some nail-biters and when it comes time to play one of those teams, we’ll be able to respond.”
The Utes (8-6, 0-2) certainly seem due. Three days before the narrow loss in the McKale Center, they dropped a 55-54 overtime decision in the Pac-12 opener at Arizona State.
“Everyone’s tough in this league so we’re right there,” said freshman forward Jordan Loveridge. “We’re bound to have some go our way.”
Utah’s next opportunity comes Thursday at home against UCLA. On Saturday, the Utes host USC in the Huntsman Center.
Senior center Jason Washburn, who posted double-doubles in both games in Arizona, acknowledged they’ll be facing two very tough teams.
At the same time, however, he noted that the Utes are also playing well — even though they have several things to work on.
“If anyone would have said that we would be in this at the very end with a shot to win it I don’t think anyone would have believed that,” Washburn remarked after the Arizona game. “The fact that we were, hopefully, will open some people’s eyes.”
Despite the six close losses, the Utes are gaining confidence.
“Our guys played to win,” Washburn said. “I’m proud of my team.”
Krystkowiak also offered praise, noting that the disappointment at Arizona isn’t going to bum anyone out and is a short-term deal.
“We’ve got a great group of guys and they’re ready to jump back in the saddle and stay after it,” Krystkowiak said. “So I don’t fear our guys losing confidence because we know we’re doing a lot of things right and the rim, I think, will open up for us and we’ll start having a different result.”
When it comes to gauging Utah’s improvement, one of the most telling statistics is average loss margin. It’s 3.6 points this season, down from 19.4 in 2011-12.
The Utes, who already have more wins than the last campaign, have yet to be blown out. Their most lopsided loss was a 62-55 decision at SMU in late November. The other setbacks came against Sacramento State (74-71), BYU (61-58), Cal State Northridge (76-71) and on the Arizona trip.
Last season, Utah was on the short end of several lopsided outcomes including a 94-48 loss at Oregon. The Utes suffered two losses by 40 or more points and 19 by margins of 10 or greater.
None of it, though, sits well with a program determined to regain past success.
“Losing is losing. A loss is a loss,” Washburn said. “They sting deep inside, no matter what the circumstances and no matter if you should have won or not. Losing hurts.”
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