SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to making free throws, the Utah Utes have had their share of foul shots. They've missed the mark with great frequency in recent Pac-12 contests — connecting on just 19-of-41 over consecutive losses to Washington, Stanford and California.
The misses proved to be especially painful in two of the games. The Utes were 11-of-18 in a 57-53 loss to Washington and just 1-of-9 in a 68-65 setback at Stanford.
"From an optimistic point of view, if you think about it, we're a handful of free throws away from being 3-2," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said as the Utes (4-13, 1-4) prepare for Thursday's home game against Arizona (12-6, 3-2).
Although it's still early in the season, Krystkowiak considers the situation encouraging — especially since the Utes have faced the top three teams in the standings (Stanford, California and Washington).
"It's a game of little things," he said. "If we start knocking some free throws down and stay competitive, we'll see what we can find out."
Competing is the other part of the equation.
"We played our hearts out at Stanford and we almost walked away with it," junior center Jason Washburn said while noting things didn't go so well two days later at California. "We just kind of laid an egg, took a step back and had our eyes opened again."
Arizona, he added, will provide as tough a test as any opponent the Utes have faced.
"This is what it's all about. It's the Pac-12 now so you're not going to have an off-game from anybody," said junior guard Chris Hines. "It's going to be a lot of fun. Arizona is always a nice team and we'll be ready."
Playing against teams like the Wildcats, that he watched as a child, has made Utah's first season in the Pac-12 both exciting and challenging.
Junior forward Cedric Martin acknowledged that the lack of success early in the season took a toll on the team. Playing well in a majority of their Pac-12 games, thus far, has restored hope. Games in the Huntsman Center have provided an additional boost.
"I think the crowd has helped us a lot," said Krystkowiak, who noted that the Utes have been pretty charged up in their home environment. They're 4-4 up on the hill this season.
Martin, thus, expects them to come out with a lot of energy in this week's games against Arizona and Arizona State — hoping everyone sticks to the game plan and get things done.
It won't be easy without scoring and assists leader "Jiggy" Watkins, who was dismissed from the team Wednesday for a violation of team rules.
The focus, though, is on Arizona. The Wildcats are led by junior forward Solomon Hill, who averages 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists. Krystkowiak, however, noted that Hill is surrounded by plenty of talent. He considers the Wildcats a "well-oiled machine" with an up-tempo style and a lot of athletes.
"We'll have our hands full for sure, as we do in a number of the games," Krystkowiak said. "They're at a place with their program where they're attracting some high-end recruits. They've got some thoroughbreds rolling in here."
Utes on the air
Arizona (12-6, 3-2) at Utah (4-13, 1-4)
Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City
Today, 6:30 p.m.
TV: none Radio: 700 AM