SALT LAKE CITY — Just when things were looking up, the Utah Utes got clobbered at California. Saturday's 81-45 loss to the Bears in Berkeley followed a string of positive performances — beginning with a 62-60 overtime win over Washington State and including near misses against Pac-12 powers Washington (57-53) and Stanford (68-65).
"That's what we're doing. We're taking steps forward and we're taking steps back. It's not anything that we have to dissect. For us, it's just a grind to keep going," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said as the Utes (4-13) prepare for Thursday's home game against Arizona (12-6). "I think a lot of coaches might hit the deal button if you could say three out of four games we're going to play like that. I'm not trying to give our guys any slack, but that's a pretty good ratio.
"We took some steps back in the Cal game. We've taken steps forward in practices," Krystkowiak continued. "It's just going to continually be that message until the season's over and then we'll move on to recruiting and skill development. But we're just trying to plow through it."
Junior guard Chris Hines acknowledged it was frustrating not to compete from start to finish.
"Once we got hit in the mouth, we didn't respond like we usually do or started doing," he said. "It really was a setback, but I don't think it's a major setback."
The Utes are still getting better, insists junior forward Cedric Martin.
"We just need to keep it consistent and battle to the end," he said.
A performance like the one at Cal is something Martin and his teammates are determined not to re-live. It rivaled the 73-33 loss at Colorado to open conference play on Dec. 31.
"I'm not a genie or anything," Martin explained. "I can't tell the future or what's going to happen, but let's make sure it won't happen again anytime soon."
FOSTER UPDATE: Senior center David Foster, who has been sidelined all season with a foot injury, is now sporting a walking boot on it. Even so, it doesn't appear the big man will be playing anytime soon — although his activity level has picked up a bit.
"He's still a ways away," Krystkowiak said.
GETTING BETTER: Hines, who broke the top of his left thumb against BYU on Dec. 10, is on the mend. He scored a career-high 21 points last week at Stanford and is averaging 10.5 points per game in Pac-12 play.
"It's getting there. It actually feels a lot better compared to the past weeks," Hines said. "So it's really helping me a lot. I'm learning how to shoot with that tape around me hand."
And that, he added, has been an adjustment.
Utes on the air
Arizona (12-6, 3-2) at Utah (4-13, 1-4)
Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
TV: None; Radio: 700 AM