A major miscue for us is we’ll have three turnovers in a row and the other team will have a 10-2 run. There’s a correlation with us being sloppy with the ball and turning it over. —Larry Krystkowiak
SALT LAKE CITY — After three tough games, two against in-state rivals and a road game to the Midwest to play Butler, the Utah basketball team finally gets a breather of sorts in its last tuneup before the start of Pac-12 play when it plays Northwestern State Wednesday night (7 p.m.) at the Huntsman Center.
No, it’s not the school from the Big Ten paying a visit to Utah, rather it’s the Southland Conference school from Natchitoches, Louisiana. The Demons, who will be coming off a game at Oklahoma Tuesday night, were 3-6 on the season heading into that game, with wins over Lyon College (NAIA), Louisiana College (NCAA Division III) and Louisiana-Monroe.
The Utes come into the game at 7-3 after a disappointing 77-65 loss to BYU Saturday night in Provo. In that game, the Utes, despite being the top team in the Pac-12 in 3-point defense, allowed the Cougars to shoot 50 percent from 3-point range on 10 of 20 and 51.9 percent overall.
Coach Larry Krystkowiak thought his team competed pretty well despite being short-handed and said the difference in the game was the outstanding play of Elijah Bryant, who torched the Utes with a career-high 29 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
Overall, Krystkowiak has been happy with his team this year, but he says the Utes need to make more open shots, not turn the ball over in bunches and play more consistently on defense.
“We’ve seen a pattern in our three losses,” he said. “A major miscue for us is we’ll have three turnovers in a row and the other team will have a 10-2 run. There’s a correlation with us being sloppy with the ball and turning it over. We’re also not shooting the ball that well. We missed some open shots the other night (5 of 22 from 3-point range at BYU) and if you want to win games you can’t miss open shots.”
As for Northwestern State, Krystkowiak doesn’t know exactly what to expect with the Demons playing the night before in the Midwest.
“They’re a pressure team with a real good guard in the backcourt and a couple of guys in the post who can do some damage,” he said. “They play full-court man pressure and three-quarter court zone pressure. They've shown a number of different things, so we’ve got to be ready to go, to be sound defensively because they’ve got some firepower.”
The Demons are led by guard Jalen West at 13.3 points and 4.7 assists per game, forward Ishmael Lane at 11.0 ppg 6.8 rpg and guard Iziahiah Sweeney at 10.6 ppg.
Utah has five players averaging in double figures, led by David Collette at 13.5 ppg. The others are Justin Bibbins (10.8), Tyler Rawson (10.3), Sedrick Barefield (10.0) and Donnie Tillman (10.7), who will miss his second straight game with a foot injury.
After tonight, the Utes will get four days off before coming back after Christmas with three practices and heading up to Oregon, where they’ll play Oregon Dec. 29 and Oregon State on New Year’s Eve. Then it’s back home for games against the two best teams in the Pac-12 so far this year — Arizona on Jan. 4 and Arizona State on Jan. 7.
“We’re beat up pretty good,” said Krystkowiak. “We’ve got to get through this one and hopefully get guys on the mend.”