I’m not going to say, 'It’s OK. We’re young.' It’s not acceptable and if we want to win on the road we have to be a lot sharper and a lot cleaner. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak
TEMPE, Ariz. — The Utah basketball team has now lost five games by a total of 13 points this season after falling to Arizona State 79-75 at Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday night.
Each loss — four of them in Pac-12 play — came down to the final minute before being decided. You could blame it on Utah’s young team, which has no seniors (with Renan Lenz still out with an injury), but Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak is having none of that.
“I wouldn’t blame that. That’s too much of an out for us,’’ he said. “I’m not going to say, 'It’s OK. We’re young.' It’s not acceptable and if we want to win on the road we have to be a lot sharper and a lot cleaner. If you’re not dialed in, you have to pitch closer to a perfect game when you’re on the road.''
When the Utes lost two games in Washington state two weeks ago, a lack of offense was the problem as the Utes averaged 52 points in the two losses. This time, the Ute offense was clicking most of the night, but the defense slacked off.
“It’s pretty simple: We just make too many errors and had breakdowns on defense,’’ said Krystkowiak. “We had some lapses in our assignments and you can’t do that when you’re on the road.’’
The Utes led most of the first half thanks to improved offensive play, but took a step back defensively as they couldn’t stop the Sun Devils, particularly guard Jahii Carson, who scored 23 points on the night, including six straight down the stretch when the Utes were trying to get in the game.
“When Jahii started taking over, we couldn’t slow him down,’’ said Jordan Loveridge. “With him getting to the hoop every time, it was tough. That’s when it slipped up for us.’’
“He’s a handful and got it going a little bit and got to the rim,’’ added Krystkowiak.
Loveridge led the Utes with 22 points, while Delon Wright added 21 and Brandon Taylor nine.
The Utes took a 41-37 halftime lead thanks to some of their better shooting of the season. Utah hit 10 of its first 14 shots and led by as many as nine points, 28-19, with 8:05 left. After the Sun Devils got within one point at 34-33, the Utes ran off seven straight and had a chance to extend the lead, but made some poor mistakes in the final minute and a half.
Wright just dropped the ball, which led to an easy ASU basket. Then the Utes were holding for a last shot when Marko Kovecevic was called for an offensive foul. The Sun Devils missed a shot with five seconds left, but two Utes knocked the ball out of bounds with 2.5 seconds left. With one more chance, ASU’s Eric Jacobsen sank a baseline jumper at the buzzer.
The Sun Devils used that momentum to start the second half, when they outscored Utah 9-4 and eventually went up by six at 58-52 at the midway point.
The Utes hung around and got within a point at 68-67 on a Wright drive with 3:10 left. However, the Utes misfired on three straight possessions, and when Jonathan Gilling sank a 3-pointer that went all the way around the rim, the Sun Devils led 73-67 with 1:34 left.
The Utes never quit and cut the lead to three with 19 seconds left, but Jermaine Marshall sank four free throws in the final 28 seconds to put the game away.
“We’ve lost games because we were the craps offensively and we’ve lost games because we faced a really good player like tonight, who made some plays,’’ said Krystkowiak.
Besides Carson, the Sun Devils also got 13 points from Gilling on 5-of-5 shooting, including three 3-pointers, and 11 from Jordan Bachynski and Shaquille McKissic.
The Utes will stay and practice in the Phoenix area for two days before going down to Tucson Saturday evening to get ready for Sunday’s game against No. 1 Arizona at 6 p.m.