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Utes aiming to power ball inside more, earn more free throws as they prepare for Cal

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah basketball team ranks third in the Pac-12 in free throw percentage at 76.4 percent, a solid number that is on track to be the fourth best season percentage in Ute history. However, the Utes rank 11th in the league in free throw attempts, ahead of just Washington State with 19 per game.

On the other hand, the Utes are firing up 3-pointers at a record pace of 25 per game and hitting a decent 36.2 percent of them.

So after shooting nearly twice as many threes as free throws in last week’s loss to Colorado, coach Larry Krystkowiak decided his team needed to get the ball inside more and not settle for as many 3-point shots.

“We talked about it all week,” he said after Thursday’s 75-60 win over Stanford. “We haven’t been stellar with our post play, but we’re not going to go anywhere without it. Third in conference in free throw percentage, but not that high in number of attempts, so I’ve encouraged our guys to get a little more aggressive and not settle for as many threes. You need to be aggressive and that’s part of points in the paint.”

The Utes got more points in the paint against the Cardinal as David Collette hit all six of his field-goal tries near the basket and the Ute guards came up with several buckets on drives to the hoop in the victory.

While the Utes will continue to shoot threes — they were 7 of 20 Thursday with Justin Bibbins going 4 for 4, they’re making more of an effort to get the ball inside to Collette, Tyler Rawson and Jayce Johnson.

The Utes’ next chance to get the ball inside comes Saturday night (7:30 p.m.) at the Huntsman Center against Cal, in what will be the only regular-season meeting between the two teams.

The Bears have struggled this year with a 2-10 conference record and an 8-17 overall mark under first-year coach Wyking Jones, they are coming off a near-win at Colorado Wednesday night when fought until the final minute before losing 68-64.

Junior guard Don Coleman leads the scoring at 16.0 points per game, followed by freshman forward Justice Sueing (13.8 ppg) and senior forward Marcus Lee (12.5 ppg). Other likely starters are Darius McNeil (11.8 ppg) and Kingsley Okorah (6.1 ppg) or Juhwan Harris-Dyson (5.7 ppg).

UTE NOTES: The 1997-98 national championship team will be on hand to sign autographs before Saturday's game and for a halftime ceremony. ... The Utes will play their final two road games of the season next week with games at Washington Thursday and Washington State Saturday. ... Then they’ll play three home games to finish the season against UCLA, USC and Colorado. ... The Pac-12 tournament begins March 7 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. ... Utah is 14-15 all-time against Cal, but 7-3 since joining the Pac-12. ... Last year, the Utes beat Cal 74-44 at home, but lost a week later in the league tournament 78-75. ... Tyler Rawson led the Utes with 10 rebounds against Stanford, but the team was outboarded for the 11th time in 12 league games, by a 38-31 count. ... Justin Bibbins scored a team-high 18 points on 7 of 9 from the field, including 4 of 4 from 3-point range.