It wasn't the most ideal of ways to ring in the New Years for head coach Larry Krystkowiak and Utah basketball.
Just 48 hours after suffering a heart-breaking 72-70 loss to UCLA on Dec. 31, the Utes offense completely forgot to show up in their 64-46 loss to USC on Jan. 2. It was Utah's lowest scoring output since the 2018-19 season and tied for their third-lowest scoring since the Utes joined the Pac-12 in the 2011-12 season.
But speaking with reporters on Monday during his weekly press conference, head coach Larry Krystkowiak isn't worried about the losses or the lack of offense displayed this past Saturday.
He has full belief that the Utes will be able to turn things around because simply put, they just missed open shots, including layups and short jumpers. The offense worked to get them the open looks they want, but for whatever reason the shots weren't falling.
“We are on the right path,” sophomore point guard Rylan Jones said following Utah's 64-46 loss to USC last Saturday. "We were getting good looks, we just missed them. We just have to find our rhythm on offense, get in a groove, see a couple go in, and I think that will kick off some wins.”
Utah will have the chance to get their first win in nearly three weeks when they host No. 17 Oregon on Saturday night at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. MT and will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks
Krystkowiak said potential changes are coming to the starting lineup, and that he's going to start rewarding players who've earned playing time in practice.
“Consistency is a big part of this game for young players,” he said. “It is not about dazzling anybody over a 40-minute period, but it is about coming in every week and really grinding and continuing to get better. … I may very well switch up the lineup. We are going to start rewarding some guys who played well in practice.”
He also said he's looking to get bigger potentially, which could mean good things for freshman guard Ian Martinez, who stands 6-foot-3 and is coming off his best game of the year.
“I am just trying to keep adjusting to this level, and there are a lot of new experiences, which I am really excited about,” Martinez said last Saturday. “I am just (concerned with) getting better and being able to contribute to the team and play my role as well as I can. I think it is getting a lot better.”
Apart from the offensive woes, Krystkowiak is liking where his team is at defensively after they held both UCLA and USC below their season averages in scoring. He's hoping that as the defensive continues to improve, it will help ignite the offense by getting that out in transition and developing a rhythm.
“We got running on offense, and that got us going,” Martinez said. “I think that’s our strength, starting on the defensive side (forcing turnovers).”
That defense will have its hands full against Oregon and guard Chris Duarte, one of the top scorers and shooters in the conference who's been on a tear lately. He's been averaging 22.5 ppg the past four games, including a season-high 27 against Colorado on Thursday night.
The Ducks will only go as far as Duarte and forward Eugene Omoruyi takes them. He's averaging a team-high 18.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while Duarte is knocking down 44.4% of his three-pointers.
Eric Williams Jr. is the only other Duck averaging double figures in scoring with 11.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
In typical head coach Dana Altman fashion, Oregon is a team chock full of long athletes who like to get after it defensively. But also in typical Altman fashion, the Ducks are still trying to put things together as a whole at this point in the season — six of their top eight players in minutes played are in their first season with the team.
Still, Oregon (8-2, 3-1 Pac-12) is a dangerous squad despite suffering its first conference loss in a 79-72 setback against Colorado on Thursday.
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