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Can Runnin’ Utes overcome adversity and turn season around?

The team is currently mired in last place in the Pac-12 standings

Utah head coach Craig Smith watches the game against Manhattan at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.
Utah head coach Craig Smith watches the game against Manhattan at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

This article was first published in the Ute Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.

No doubt, the University of Utah basketball team has been snakebitten this season.

In coach Craig Smith’s first year at the helm, the Utes have suffered injuries (for example, center Branden Carlson suffered an appendicitis attack and underwent an emergency appendectomy on Saturday), disappointing defeats, a current four-game losing streak and most recently, their scheduled game against Arizona State was postponed due to COVID-19 cases within ASU’s program.

Last week, Utah (8-8, 1-5) was swept at home by Washington and Washington State. The Utes squandered a 14-point lead against the Huskies, then lost to the Cougars, who won in Salt Lake City for the first (and only) time since a 33-32 win over the Utes on Dec. 14, 1946.

“Barring a complete turnaround, Utah’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large entrant, which was its stated goal when the season began, are on life support,” Deseret News beat writer Jay Drew wrote before the WSU setback. “The Utes’ NET ranking fell from 97 to 115.”

Utah is mired in last place in the Pac-12 standings. Can the Utes overcome adversity and turn things around?

Numbers game

5: The Utes, riding a four-game losing streak, haven’t lost five in a row since January 2013.

14: Last week, Utah lost to Washington State for the first time in 14 matchups between the two schools.

197.100: Utah’s gymnastics team’s score last Friday night in the Rio Tinto Best of Utah meet.

From the archives

Extra points

  • Utah football signee Jaylon Glover named Florida Mr. Football (Deseret News)
  • Utah running back Tavion Thomas returning in 2022 (Deseret News)
  • University of Utah NIL partnership opens path for fans to purchase jerseys with player names (Deseret News)
  • Will Runnin’ Utes tweak starting lineup with Washington schools visiting this week? (Deseret News)
  • Utah, BYU, Utah State all ranked in final AP Top 25 for first time in same season (Deseret News)

Fanalyst

Comments from Deseret News readers

“What has gone wrong with the Runnin’ Utes?’ Chris Hill and Coach K ... and it will take several years to fix, what those two broke. Chris did so poorly to manage the Utes’ football and basketball teams that he couldn’t recognize a competent coach to save his life. He hired Coach-K, and that went so well, that they canceled all games with USU and Weber State to keep the recruits from knowing that Utah had the 3-4th best team in Utah.

“Chris Hill even attempted to fire Coach Whittingham, but thankfully was unsuccessful. For several years, Chris was undermining Kyle by denying the coach the ability to give any of his assistants more than one-year-contracts. Competent coaches demand some guaranteed consistency. This created a rotating door with offensive coaches/coordinators who had lost their job, and just wanted another one, until they could get a better one. This denied Kyle consistency and competency on the offensive staff. The football team and Kyle have succeeded in-spite of Chris and has done MUCH better without him.

“The current AD finally got rid of Coach K, and it usually takes a couple years for any team to develop a winning environment once the fired coach leaves. Give them a little more time; they have 10+ years of leaderless coaching to overcome.”

— midmajor

“A Florida pipeline (with the addition of Jaylon Glover)? It sure looks like it. That opener against the ‘’Gators is looking very interesting! Another tribute to the U’s coaches on the recruiting trail, and there is more to come!”

— stathis

Up next

Jan. 14 | 7:30 p.m. | Gymnastics | vs. Oklahoma | @Salt Lake City | ESPN2

Jan. 15 | 6 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. Arizona | @Tuscon, Arizona | Pac-12 Network

Jan. 13 | 7 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. California | @Salt Lake City | Pac-12 Network

Jan. 16 | Noon | Women’s basketball | vs. Stanford | @Salt Lake City | Pac-12 Network