For the first time since the 2012-13 season, their second season as a member of the Pac-12, the Runnin’ Utes have lost five straight basketball games.

Their latest setback came Saturday night at the McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona, as No. 6 Arizona flexed its considerable muscle the second half of the second half and rolled to an 82-64 win to stay atop the Pac-12 standings.

Are the Utes (8-9, 1-6) in trouble? Are they ever going to win again?

No and yes, coach Craig Smith and big man Dusan Mahorcic said after the Utes were simply worn down by the bigger, stronger, more talented Wildcats in front of 14,164 fans.

“We gotta start chipping away more and more and I have a feeling (with) how the season is going, (wins) are going to come,” Mahorcic said.

Smith has repeatedly said through the losing skid — Utah hasn’t won since edging Fresno State 55-50 at the Huntsman Center on Dec. 21 — that this thrown-together team knew there would be days, and stretches, like this and has the maturity and leadership to persevere.

“I thought we got better tonight in a very difficult environment, a hostile environment to play in,” he said. “But I am not into moral victories.”

Struggling Utah stayed in the area and will tangle with Arizona State (5-9, 1-3) at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, Arizona, on Monday at 2 p.m. MST. The makeup game after last week’s postponement will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.

At least the Utes can expect a less-hostile crowd than the one they faced Saturday night. Arizona State lost 75-57 to Colorado on Saturday at home, and announced attendance was just 7,548. Who knows how many Sun Devils fans will show up for a rescheduled Monday afternoon game?

Then again, maybe it will draw well because Monday is a day off, for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, for many folks.

Utes on the air

Utah (8-9, 1-6) vs. Arizona State (5-9, 1-3)

Monday, 2 p.m. MST

At Desert Financial Arena

Tempe, Arizona

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: ESPN 700 AM

Whatever the case, Smith said it won’t be easy. Nothing comes easy for this group, which has played without star center Branden Carlson (out after an appendectomy) the last two games. Carlson is on the trip and it would not be outside the realm of possibility for him to play Monday.

“We told our guys, ‘this is going to be one of the hardest games of the year on Monday,’” Smith said. “And I say that, because (we) are coming off an unbelievable crowd, a really, really good team, and all that kind of stuff.

“And Arizona State, the way they play, makes it very, very difficult on teams. And so yeah, we have a very difficult stretch,” he continued. “But if you have any kind of competitive spirit at all to you, it is one that you embrace and look forward to.”

As has been well-documented, the Utes are in the middle of the toughest stretch of their schedule. Having played at No. 6 Arizona on Saturday, they get a brief respite from ranked teams on Monday, then return to Salt Lake City to host No. 3 UCLA on Thursday and No. 5 USC on Saturday.

The Bruins and Trojans look beatable, after Oregon swept both schools in Los Angeles last week, but that’s a topic for later.

“Hey, that’s what you want,” Smith said of the brutal stretch. “You want to play great teams. That’s why we are in it. It is big boy basketball in a big boy basketball league, and you gotta compete.”

Utah can compete. It was right there with the 14-1 Wildcats until a 21-0 run started eight minutes into the second half.

“I gotta feeling we can build on it,” Mahorcic said.

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If the Utes can’t topple the Sun Devils, who were outscored 38-23 by Colorado in the second half, their five-game losing streak could reach record-setting proportions. 

In Larry Krystkowiak’s second season, Utah lost to ASU, Arizona, UCLA, USC and Washington State from Jan. 2 to Jan. 16, but snapped the five-game skid with a 74-65 win over Washington in Seattle, a win few saw coming.

The Utes won four of their last five games in 2012-13, as they got healthy and figured some things out.

Smith hopes history repeats itself this year.

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In Krystkowiak’s first year, the Utes lost eight straight non-conference games in November and December of 2011 and then eight straight Pac-12 games in January and February of 2012. They finished 6-25, so obviously Smith’s first club is well ahead of where that one was.

Arizona State will be playing in just its third game in 28 days, due to COVID-19 issues throughout the past month. The Sun Devils looked rusty at times against the Buffaloes because it was their first game in 13 days.

“The guys wanted to play, they were juiced about playing, because it has been so long,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “We just didn’t have a lot of gas in the tank in the second half.”

Sounds a bit like the Utes.

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