We need to take a good look at where our breakdowns are coming and get them fixed. —Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak
LOS ANGELES — All told, the Utah Utes didn’t do so well at UCLA and USC. Besides losing last week’s Pac-12 games by a combined total of 36 points, they held a lead for a grand total of two minutes and 33 seconds on the trip — all early in Sunday’s 84-67 loss to the Trojans at Galen Center.
“We need to take a good look at where our breakdowns are coming and get them fixed,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, whose squad has now lost four straight games.
The Utes enter this week’s home contests against Washington and Washington State with a 10-7 record, including a 2-4 mark in Pac-12 play. The slide has them all alone in 10th place after three weeks of conference action.
Things got ugly after a 6-0 start at USC. The Trojans responded with 10 straight points as part of what proved to be a 64-30 run. The outburst gave them their biggest lead of the game with just until 12 minutes left to play.
“We played tentatively in the beginning and a lot of it was my fault. I need to come out stronger,” said senior guard Justin Bibbins, who scored all of his game-high 19 points in the second half.
Bibbins noted that turnovers were troublesome early and the situation improved in the second half when the Utes attacked the zone like they usually do in order to get good shots.
Reversing the trend of sluggish starts is also being addressed.
“The 6-0 run at the beginning shows that we’re trying to put effort into it and changing it,” Bibbins said. ”So we’re just going to keep working, keep grinding.”
Sophomore center Jayce Johnson mentioned that the Utes need to focus on defense in practice the next couple of days and be more aggressive. Avoiding bad starts is another obvious priority.
“If we can stop that we can take control of the whole game,” Johnson said. “So we’ve got to go back in the gym and figure it out.”
There are other issues as well as Utah seeks to reverse its trajectory.
“We need to improve quite a bit in our zone offense. That’s one of the key storylines to both games. We just stood around and had too many deflections against lengthy teams,” Krystkowiak said. “That’s on me as a coach. We’re going to have to come up with a handful of things that makes us better when we can’t communicate with our team. I don’t want to be a coach that’s calling every play. Our team has to know what we’re doing and I thought some of that compounds itself.”
Despite all the shortcomings, Krystkowiak said he “thought the guys came out and were ready to play” at USC. That included freshman forward Donnie Tillman, who started in what was just his second game since Dec. 9 because of a foot injury.
Tillman scored 10 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists in 27 minutes of action.
“I didn’t want to overdo it,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s been doing a good job with our training staff and hopefully he doesn’t have any repercussions, negative from how he feels tonight.”
Krystkowiak added that Tillman makes a difference in a physical type of game. It’s something he thinks the team needs from other guys as well, explaining that some are closer to the softer end of the meter than the tougher end.
“Our guys will get challenged and we’ll have a good week of practice, I hope, and get ready to go,” Krystkowiak said.