Runnin’ Utes refuse to let 10-game losing streak break their spirit
Utah has never lost more than four-straight home games in its basketball history and will need a win against the 3-16 Beavers to avoid that dubious distinction
The Runnin’ Utes have already set one dubious record for futility in this injury-, illness- and suspension-filled basketball season, losing 10 straight games for the first time since the program began in 1908.
Another undesirable record could happen Thursday night when the also-struggling Oregon State Beavers roll into Salt Lake City for a 7 p.m. contest that will be televised nationally by ESPNU.
The Utes (8-14, 1-11) have not only lost 10 straight games, they have lost four straight home games, something that has happened only eight times in their long and glorious history.
Utes, Beavers on the air
Utah (8-14, 1-11) vs. Oregon State (3-16, 1-8)
Thursday, 7 p.m. MST
At the Jon M. Huntsman Center
Radio: ESPN 700 AM
They’ve never lost five in a row at home, be it at Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse (which opened in 1939), or the Jon M. Huntsman Center, which opened in 1969 as the Special Events Center.
There might not be a better opportunity the remainder of the season to get back in the win column for the first time since they beat Fresno State 55-50 on Dec. 21 for the Runnin’ Utes, as Oregon State (3-16, 1-8) is also suffering through a disappointing year.
The Beavers have lost five straight games, not tasting victory since beating the Utes 88-76 on Dec. 30 in Corvallis.
Utah, coming off a heartbreaking 77-73 double-overtime loss at Washington last Saturday, will remain at home this Saturday and host red-hot Oregon before embarking on a three-game road swing to Colorado, Stanford and California.
Are the Utes losing hope?
Hardly, graduate transfer Marco Anthony and coach Craig Smith said Tuesday as they discussed the upcoming homestand at a news conference in the basketball practice facility. It is a new month, and time for a new start, they said.
“I feel like the streak we have been on has been that plateau. So, just the way life goes. We are due for that growth spurt. I feel like January ending is that time for us,” Anthony said, referring to a book he recently read called “Chop Wood, Carry Water.”
January was easily the most forgettable month in Utes basketball history, and not just because they went winless. They were blown out in some games, lost on last-second shots or in overtime in others, and played without key players such as center Branden Carlson in most of them.
“Of course it has been tough, but I feel like when everything is all glitters and rainbows, that’s when you are on the high road,” Anthony said. “Whenever you are losing, like we are now, that’s when it shows your true character. (We are) just trying to build off that and not quitting and understanding this is a marathon we are going through.
“Morale is high, and it keeps us going and it keeps us wanting to get better each and every day so we can’t get out of this slump that we are in,” Anthony concluded.
There’s no time like the present.
Smith said a review Tuesday of the Dec. 30 loss at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis showed “we have gotten a lot better.”
That improvement is going to manifest itself in the win-loss column soon, Smith believes.
“But all you can control is your attitude and your effort,” he said in response to a question about how he manages to keep smiling everywhere he goes. “You gotta keep coaching, and show up every day with energy and enthusiasm and hopefully inspire your guys, whether it is the coaching staff, or your support personnel, or the guys in your program, to keep aspiring to be the best we can be as a team, on an individual basis, to keep growing and developing.”
Smith experienced some losing streaks and rough seasons when he was an assistant under Tim Miles at Colorado State and Nebraska, but as a head coach at Mayville State, South Dakota and Utah State he’s never had a losing season.
“This is certainly the hardest stretch (he’s had) as a head coach,” he said. “…So we can sit here and mope around and sulk and pout and feel sorry for ourselves, but that doesn’t do anything. … And so you gotta be your best every day.”
It appears the Utes will be shorthanded inside again Thursday night; Smith said on his coaches show on KALL 700 on Monday night and reiterated Tuesday that nothing had changed in regards to backup center Dusan Mahorcic, suspended “indefinitely” prior to last Saturday’s game at Washington for a violation of team rules.
“I am going to stick with the quote (from the news release), and we will see what happens from there,” he said Tuesday when asked if Mahorcic will play again this season.
Smith made a reference to recent events galvanizing the team during his radio show, but when asked to expound on that Tuesday, he demurred. He did say the team “felt different” vs. the Huskies.
“We just had a steely kind of look to us,” he said. “You know what I mean? We had a gritty look to us. Our chemistry was big time. You could just feel the unity within the team. That’s just what it felt like. I won’t go any further than that.”
Also Tuesday, the Utes announced that they will play in the 2022 Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off in Florida (Suncoast Credit Union Arena) on the campus of SouthWestern State College.
The tournament is Nov. 21-23, 2022, and will also feature Georgia Tech, Marquette and Mississippi State in the Beach Division. Matchups, game times and broadcast plans will be announced later.
“I mean, we are going to have a different team next year in a lot of respects, I think,” Smith said. “And so I think it is great to get out there right away and see where you are at, relatively early in the season.”