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Utah basketball: Utes searching for answers to offensive woes

Published: Monday, Jan. 13 2014 7:17 p.m. MST

Utah guard Delon Wright, center, gets in line to shake hands after losing an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State 49-46 on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Dean Hare) (Dean Hare, AP) Utah guard Delon Wright, center, gets in line to shake hands after losing an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State 49-46 on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Dean Hare) (Dean Hare, AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — In the wake of two close losses in the state of Washington, the Utah basketball team is searching for answers to its offensive woes as it prepares for a couple of home games this week.

The Utes face USC Thursday night (8 p.m.) and UCLA Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.). In those games, they'll try to find an offense that was missing in action in two road contests when they managed just 104 total points and shot only 36.1 percent from the field and an atrocious 10.3 percent (3 for 29) from 3-point range.

After losing to Washington 59-57 on Wednesday night, the Utes felt they had a great opportunity to beat a short-handed Washington State team on Sunday. However, the Utes shot an abysmal 29.5 percent from the field and 14.3 percent (2 of 14) from 3-point range. Ironically, the Utes came into the game as the best-shooting team in the Pac-12.

Coach Larry Krystkowiak called his offense “sluggish” and “out of sync” after Sunday’s loss and said the Utes have a lot of work to do to get it fixed.

Utah guard Brandon Taylor (11) drives inside Washington State guard Dexter Kernich-Drew (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Dean Hare) (Dean Hare, AP) Utah guard Brandon Taylor (11) drives inside Washington State guard Dexter Kernich-Drew (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Dean Hare) (Dean Hare, AP)

“I don’t really have an answer for it,’’ said forward Jordan Loveridge. He acknowledged that being on the road might have affected the Utes’ shooting, saying, “Maybe a little bit. We practice every day countless hours shooting in our own gym.’’

Loveridge also said the Utes need to improve their overall offensive game.

“We shouldn’t have to live and die by the 3,’’ he said. “I feel we have more to our game.’’

Brandon Taylor, who was coming off his best game as a Ute when he scored 23 points, including 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range against Oregon State, especially struggled on the road. It was a trip to forget for Taylor, who shot just 2 for 18 from the field and 0 for 9 from 3-point range in the two games.

“We need to put this one behind us and move on to the next game, which is USC,’’ Taylor said.

Washington State guard Royce Woolridge scores as guard Que Johnson (32), Utah forward Jordan Loveridge (21) and center Jeremy Olsen (41) watch during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Dean Hare) (Dean Hare, AP) Washington State guard Royce Woolridge scores as guard Que Johnson (32), Utah forward Jordan Loveridge (21) and center Jeremy Olsen (41) watch during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Dean Hare) (Dean Hare, AP)

USC comes into the game as the only winless team in the Pac-12 at 0-3. The Trojans lost 73-53 to No. 1-ranked Arizona Sunday after losing to Arizona State 79-60 and UCLA 107-73 the week before. USC is 9-7 overall with a loss to Utah State in Logan earlier this season.

Utah's four losses this year have come by a grand total of nine points.

“We’ve lost our share of these close games,’’ said Krystkowiak. “Everybody needs to look in the mirror and figure out what they can do to play a part of it and as a coach I’ve got a job to put us in position to be more successful.’’

NOTES: Junior guard Delon Wright ranks in the top five in the Pac-12 in five statistical categories — field goal percentage (first), assists (fifth), steals (second), blocked shots (fifth) and assist-to-turnover ratio (fifth). He’s also 11th in scoring and 14th in rebounding. ... Renan Lenz, who lost his starting job three games ago, played just two minutes Sunday before going out with a severely sprained ankle. He is unlikely to play this week. ... Utah ranks second in the Pac-12 in attendance with an average of 9,551 fans on the season.

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