SALT LAKE CITY — UCLA coach Ben Howland paid the Utah Utes quite a compliment before leaving the Huntsman Center Thursday night.
“I’ll give them credit because they never said die,” Howland told reporters after the Bruins’ 57-53 victory over the Utes.
Utah overcame a 13-point deficit in the first half to make things interesting down the stretch. The comeback bid was stymied, however, by five missed shots that could have tied the score or given the Utes a lead with less than three minutes left to play.
UCLA wound up making a late layup as Utah suffered yet another close setback. The Utes’ seven losses this season have come by a combined 26 points, including an eight-point margin in three Pac-12 defeats.
Senior Jason Washburn, who had double-doubles in each of the conference games, noted that the key to getting over the hump and winning comes down to making shots and getting stops.
“It’s a simple game. Coach always says it,” he said. “It’s not really that complicated.”
In the loss to UCLA, Utah’s shortcoming was inconsistency. It was a tale of two halves — a poor first followed by a strong second.
“That last sequence of shots didn’t determine the game,” Washburn said. “It was over the course of time, just like basketball has always been.”
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak acknowledged that the Utes didn’t finish possessions against the Bruins and it cost them.
“Right now, they’re doing everything I ask of them defensively,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s just the offense that is our bugaboo.”
Even so, Krystkowiak is confident the shots will start falling and things will turn around. Everyone just has to keep the faith, he added.
The next opportunity comes Saturday afternoon at home against USC. Krystkowiak is hopeful that another large student section (the MUSS) will be on hand to support the Utes.
“People are feeding off them,” he said. “I hope we can continue to build on that and that some of those people will comeback and give us a shot on Saturday.”
EXTRA STUFF: USC dropped a 66-60 decision at Colorado on Thursday.
The Trojans are led by senior forward Eric Wise (12 points), junior forward Dewayne Dedmon (7.3 rebounds) and senior guard Jio Fontan (5.1 assists)
Utah will honor players, coaches and support staff from the 1980s at the game. A halftime ceremony will pay tribute to the program’s three Western Athletic Conference championship teams from the decade (1981, 1983, 1986).
Utes on the Air:
USC (6-10, 1-2) at Utah (8-7, 0-3)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700AM