Entering the final stretch of the regular season, Utah sits in a tie for eighth place in the Pac-12 standings. But in order to move up, the Utes will have to navigate their way around the toughest two-game stretch in the conference — UCLA and USC.
Up first for Utah is the Bruins, with tipoff set for 6 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.
Utah (9-10, 6-9 Pac-12) is set to host UCLA (16-5) and USC (19-4) on Thursday and Saturday this week. The Trojans sit stop the standings at 13-3 while the Bruins are a half-game behind at 12-3.
It's been a tale of two teams for the Utes ever since the calendar flipped to February.
Utah appeared to be in phenomenal shape as the second half of the conference schedule began, getting consecutive victories over Colorado, Arizona and Cal to reach .500 in conference play.
But things then took an ugly turn as losses to Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon now has the Utes at 6-9 in conference play. The losses were particularly brutal as the Utah's comeback attempt came up short against Stanford, they were outclassed by the Beavers and a questionable call doomed them against the Ducks.
The loss to Oregon is going to be particularly difficult to get over as it was a game the Utes felt as if they had a great opportunity to pull out the win late.
Trailing 65-64 with 10 seconds left, freshman guard Pelle Larsson had the ball and drove to the hoop where he was cut off. He then pivoted and kicked the ball out to junior forward Timmy Allen.
The errant pass eluded Allen and bounced out towards midcourt, where he ran it down and began to dribble towards the hoop with five seconds left. But official Deldre Carr had other ideas, blowing his whistle and calling a double-dribble on Allen — a call that was met with shock, anger and disgust.
Despite protests from players and Krystkowiak, the call held true and Oregon was able to run out the clock the rest of the way.
“Wow, all I can say is wow,” Krystkowiak said postgame against Oregon. “You know what a team goes through and we scrapped and we played our butts off and it wasn’t error free by any means, and we make plenty of mistakes. Oregon made plenty of mistakes. Dana (Altman) and I probably made plenty of mistakes. But I think at the end of the day, we let the players determine a game and so to make up a call at the end, that didn’t even happen is mind boggling."
Utah will try to get over the game against the Ducks when it faces the Bruins on Thursday, winners of three in a row and looking to close in on USC for Pac-12 supremacy.
*After winning three straight, Utah is currently on a three-game losing streak
*Timmy Allen leads Utah with 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game on the season — But over the past 10 games he's averaging 19 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists per game
*Branden Carlson has been as equally impressive for the Utes over his past 10 games, really coming into his own on both ends of the court. He's averaging 12.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks over that span, but has scored in double figures in five straight games while posting two double-doubles over that span.
*Alfonso Plummer is the only other Ute averaging double figures on the season, posting 13.0 points per game. He's been inconsistent the past four games, scoring 17 and 14 points in games against Oregon and Stanford while being held to four and nine points against the Beavers and Golden Bears.
*Utah could get back starters in point guard Rylan Jones and forward Mikael Jantunen. Jones has been out with a shoulder injury while Jantunen has been in quarantine after suiting up for his native Finland last Saturday
*Following a two-game losing streak, UCLA is currently on a three-game winning streak
*Five different players are averaging double-figures on the season, led by guard Johnny Juzang's 13.8 points per game. He's been nearly unstoppable the past seven games by averaging 17.9 points, including three games of 25 points or more
*Tyger Campbell is the instigator for the Bruins, averaging 11.1 points and 5.7 assists per game. But it's his defensive tone that sets the standard for UCLA, which often ignites the offense on the other end
*Chris Smith and Jaime Jaquez Jr. rank second and third in scoring at 12.6 and 12.0 points per game respectively.
*Utah controls the tip and we are underway…
*Carlson off to a great start tonight with four points and two rebounds at the first media timeout
* Utah 6 - UCLA 4
1H | 15:42
Utes off to a great start as Carlson is taking advantage of his size down low and the team is playing hard
*Jones is into the game at the 15:22 mark of the first half… great season moving forward
*Jones making an immediate impact with an assist to Carlson for a dunk...
Utah 13 - UCLA 15
1H | 11:44
Utes getting beat up down low but the Martinez is showing talent on the defensive end with a block of Juzang
*Interesting lineup as Krystkowiak is going with Jones, Martinez, Brenchley, Battin and Thioune — not many offensive weapons...
*Jones played about 4 minutes before being pulled for Larsson. Would expect 2-3 more stints like this for the rest of the game
*Utah trailing by 5 with under-10 to play in half before Krystkowiak puts Allen, Plummer and Carlson back in
*Utes have forced four turnovers but UCLA is 3-4 from deep and 7-12 from the floor overall
Utah 17 - UCLA 22
1H | 7:34
*Utah forcing turnovers but not getting stops on other possessions. Tightening up the defense down low has to be a priority
*Martinez is an insanely bouncy athlete… can’t wait until he learns it’s not all about athleticism and to harness it better. He has the potential to be really good
Utah 22 - UCLA 22
1H | 6:30
*Utes on a 5-0 run as Martinez knocks down a three-pointer and then gets a block on the other end, followed by a deep two from Plummer
*Rough sequence for Allen as he missed two back-to-back layups, the second of which was as wide open as they come… UCLA lead back to 5
*This game has the potential to get away from Utah over the final 3 minutes. Utes down 5 but Bruins just have all the momentum it feels like…
*Pac-12 refs never fail to disappoint. Carlson is hacked and the ball goes off a UCLA player... yet somehow one official saw it off Utah and was ADAMANT about it when running down the court...
Utah 27 - UCLA 35
Carlson keeping the Utes in it with a game-high 13 points but 4-5 missed layups and point-blank range are really hurting the Utes…
*Utah can't get out of its own way as they're missing to many shots at the rim. Allen with just a 2 points has to change as well...
*UCLA storms out of the gates with a 16-5 run as the Utes look disengaged on both ends of the court.
Utah 49 - UCLA 63
2H | 7:42
Utes on a 10-3 run to make this somewhat of a game. Carlson up to 15 points but team shooting just 43% from the floor
*The comeback was short-lived as the Bruins respond with a quick 5-0 run...
*Martinez up to 10 points after knocking down his second three-pointer of the game. Jones has 7 assists for the Utes...
*Tough decision by Jones there, as Utah has a 2-v-1 but Jones inexplicably pulls up from three-point territory and misses. Utes need the bucket there...
Utah 68 - UCLA 54
2H | 4:27
*Martinez up to 10 points while Carlson has a team-high 17, but not getting much from leading scorers in Plummer and Allen
*Cronin's timeout was a good one as UCLA hits a three-pointer coming out of it... which essentially seals the game with 3:30 to play
Utah - UCLA
Utes get blown out on their home court after they couldn't overcome a slow start to the second half. Carlson finished with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks in one of his best all around performances of the season
Some positives to take away with the return of Jones and the dominance of Carlson. But inconsistent offense and a lack of perimeter defense cost Utah a chance at a big-time victory over UCLA
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