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Utah basketball: Young Utes hope to improve in late-game situations

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah basketball team has lost just three games this year, and each loss was by two points in the final seconds.

The Utes made some poor decisions in all of those defeats, and coach Larry Krystkowiak hopes that it’s partly because of youth and inexperience and that his team will improve in crunch time as the year moves on.

“These close games make everybody involved take a close look at the things we need to do to tighten up,’’ he said. “We don’t like the fact that we’ve lost the close games, but hopefully we’re taking a pretty close evaluation of what we need to clean up and will lead to improvement.’’

In the latest loss at Washington Wednesday night, the Utes had a chance to win or tie, being down two points with nine seconds left. Delon Wright, who had a brilliant game with 27 points and 11 rebounds, took the ball down the left side. Rather than handing the ball off to Brandon Taylor, he took the ball into the corner, where he was forced to fire up a 3-pointer at the buzzer that missed everything.

Krystkowiak didn’t want to blame anyone or say what play the Utes were trying to run.

“I don’t like throwing players under the bus,’’ he said. “But what happened out on the floor isn’t what we talked about doing. Credit Washington’s defense. Sometimes you can talk about it all you want and work on it in a practice setting, but when you’re in foreign territory, the fact of the matter is, we’ve got a lot of guys who are young.’’

A week earlier against Oregon, the Utes had a hurried play at the end of regulation and made a bad turnover at the end of overtime, which led to the winning basket for the Ducks. In their earlier loss to Boise State, the Utes turned the ball over near their basket with less than 20 seconds left.

“Right now we’re shooting ourselves in the foot with some execution and what plays we run,’’ Krystkowiak said. “Hopefully we’ll execute them a little better.’’

UNCERTAINTY AT THE THREE SPOT: The Utes have three solid starters in Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Taylor, while Jeremy Olsen has replaced Renan Lenz at the center spot the past two games, with Dallin Bachynski getting a lot of minutes off the bench.

The most inconsistent position for the Utes this year has been the small forward spot, where Dakarai Tucker, Princeton Onwas and Ahmad Fields have all seen action this year, along with Kenneth Ogbe, who also plays shooting guard.

Tucker started the first five games, was replaced by Onwas for four games, only to have Tucker start the last six. Onwas didn’t even play in the first two Pac-12 games against Oregon and Oregon State, before playing some important second-half minutes at Washington Wednesday night when he scored six points on 3-of-3 shooting and played good defense on Washington's C.J. Wilcox.

“Princeton had a good week of practice,’’ said Krystkowiak. “We put him on Wilcox and he did a good job and was focused. It was encouraging.’’

Krystkowiak said the key is consistency and he’d rather have one or two guys he can rely on at the wing position.

“I’m hoping that gets a little clearer for us,’’ he said. “I wish it were easier where somebody’s doing it consistently. I’d love to be able to say, 'There’s our guy.'"

UTE NOTES: Sunday’s game at Washington State begins at 5 p.m. MST. ... After shooting just 1 for 15 from 3-point range Wednesday night, the Utes fell to 34.7 percent on the season. ... Wright is still ranked second in the country in field goal percentage at 66.9 percent. He’s also 15th in the nation in steals at 2.53 per game. ... Despite having just three turnovers against Washington, the Utes are still No. 7 in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.67. ... After playing Washington State, the Utes return home for games against USC Thursday and UCLA Saturday.