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‘I put my money on him’: Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak likes the way Alfonso Plummer has ‘stayed in the fight’

Puerto Rico native has seen his minutes increase in recent games.

Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) beats Central Arkansas Bears guard Rylan Bergersen (1) to the hoop during the second half of an NCAA mens basketball game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Utah defeated Central Arkansas 98-67.
Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) beats Central Arkansas Bears guard Rylan Bergersen (1) to the hoop during the second half of a men’s basketball game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Utah defeated Central Arkansas 98-67.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

CORVALLIS, Ore. — At the start of the season, the Utah basketball team expected junior college transfer Alfonso Plummer, as one of the Utes’ only upperclassmen, to be a big part of this year’s team that features 11 freshmen and four sophomores.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way, as Plummer has been coming off the bench all season and hasn’t even appeared in a handful of games. Lately, however, he’s seen an increased role as starting guard Both Gach has been sidelined with an injury and Plummer has become more comfortable with his role on a major college team.

Plummer is coming off two games where he played pretty much half the game against Stanford and Cal and his 21 minutes in the latter were the most he’s played in any game this season. He made 4 of 7 shots and finished with eight points, providing a needed spark off the bench.

Coach Larry Krystkowiak said it often takes junior college players half a season to get acclimated to major college basketball and he’s pleased with the positive attitude Plummer has kept this season.

“I love the way he’s stayed in the fight and stayed on board with everything we’re doing,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s a good teammate and he wants to do the right thing.”

Plummer was recruited to Utah by assistant coach Tommy Connor after a standout career at Arizona Western College, where he was the leading scorer for two years, averaging 18.6 ppg in his second season while shooting just over 50% from the field and 45% from 3-point range.

He grew up in Puerto Rico and learned the game from his father, who played on the country’s national team, and was a star for his high school team. He didn’t have any plans to leave, but “one call changed everything” when coach Charles Harral from Arizona Western invited him to play for his school.

After playing so well in Arizona, several schools showed interest including the likes of Louisville and Ole Miss and he got scholarship offers Texas State and Portland State before choosing Utah, where he said he “saw the energy and saw the love” in the program.

Early on, Plummer had some big games, with 17 points, including 5 of 11 from 3-point range against Mississippi Valley State and 18 against Central Arkansas when he made 4 of 9 3-pointers. He didn’t get into a few games in the middle of the season, but has played in nine of 11 Pac-12 games and seen his minutes increase.

“I try to make some shots, run the floor, talk and bring energy on defense more,” says Plummer. “I’ve learned a lot, I have to be ready prepared and show I am hungry.”

Krystkowiak says Plummer might be the best shooter on his team, but he hasn’t seen as much action because his defense wasn’t up to par, although he’s been improving.

“I’ve come to the realization that he’s a better game player than he is a practice player,” said Krystkowiak. “Alfonso, he stretches the floor and does a nice job when he takes open shots. I put my money on him to make some shots.”

Making shots has been a problem for the Utes during Pac-12 play (40.4%), so Plummer can make a difference as conference play winds toward the tournament next month in Las Vegas.

The Utes will try to get their first league road victory Thursday night (7 p.m. MST) when they take on Oregon State (14-9, 4-7) at Gill Coliseum.

The Beavers have had an up-and-down season. After winning 10 of 12 games in nonconference play, their best showing in more than 30 years, they’ve struggled to a 4-7 mark in league play and sit in 11th place.

However, two of those wins came against the league’s best teams so far this season. The Beavers handed Colorado its only home loss back in early January and last week knocked off in-state rival Oregon

Tres Tinkle, the son of coach Wayne Tinkle, leads OSU in scoring at 19.0 ppg and is followed by Ethan Thompson at 15.1 ppg and Kylor Kelley (11.1 ppg), who is second in the nation in blocked shots at 3.7 per game. Other starters are Zach Reichle (8.4 ppg) and Alfred Hollins (5.8 ppg).

After Thursday’s game, the Utes will have a couple of days before their next game, Sunday night (7 p.m.) against No. 17-ranked Oregon. Then they’ll return home for a pair of games next week against UCLA Thursday and USC Sunday.

Utes on the air

Utah (14-9, 5-6 Pac-12) at Oregon State (14-9, 4-7)

Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, Ore.

Thursday, 7 p.m. MST

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: ESPN AM-700