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Utah’s defense and rebounding are good, but lack of offense is killing Utes, especially on the road

Larry Krystkowiak’s program has lost six straight road games in Pac-12 play, including Thursday night at Oregon State heading to the Utes’ Sunday matchup with No. 17 Oregon in Eugene.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak reacts during game against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Once again, the Utah basketball team was offensively challenged Thursday night in a 70-51 loss to Oregon State, the Utes sixth straight road defeat in Pac-12 play.

Coach Larry Krystkowiak was happy with his team’s effort for the most part as well as its defense and rebounding. But the Utes had no chance for a victory when they were only able to make 37% of their field goal attempts, the eighth time in a dozen Pac-12 games the Utes have shot less than 40% from the field. They also made just 8 of 16 free throw attempts, despite coming into the game as one of the league’s best free throw shooting teams, which included five misses on the front ends of 1-and-1 attempts.

“I thought we played plenty hard on defense, but forgot to play with an edge on offense,” Krystkowiak said. “Defensively we were pretty solid, guarding and doing what we needed to do, but you can’t score 19 points in a half and we were in a little bit of a funk offensively.”

Utah’s Timmy Allen shoots over Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson during game in Corvallis, Ore., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. Oregon State won 70-51.

As for the free throw woes, Krystkowiak said, “We left a potential of about 13 or 14 points at the free throw line when you count the front end of 1-and-1s. I don’t know whether that’s mental toughness or mental discipline, but when you’re standing up there on the road in Pac-12 games, you can’t be 0-fer from the free throw line like we were.”

The Utes also struggled from 3-point range again, finishing at 26.3% on the night. They came into the game, ranked 10th in 3-point shooting during league play at 30.8% while Oregon State was last. However, the Beavers managed to make 8 of 21 for 38.1%.

The best part of Utah’s game Thursday was its work on the boards, as the Utes outrebounded a bigger and more experienced team, 34-33. The big edge came on offensive rebounds as the Utes had 11 to OSU’s five.

The Utes rank fifth in the league in rebounding and have come on strong in recent games since getting outrebounded by five against Oregon, 18 against Colorado and six by Arizona in consecutive games last month.

“I’ve been really pleased with our rebounding, that’s been one of the strengths of our season,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve put a lot of emphasis on our rebounding — we’ve got one of our better rebounding teams since we’ve been here.”

The Utes will face a tough test Sunday night against No. 17-ranked Oregon, which came back from a double-digit deficit to defeat No. 16 Colorado 68-60 Thursday night.

Krystkowiak wants his team to play harder on offense than it has been, which he explained after the Oregon State loss.

“In basketball you talk about playing hard and everybody assumes that’s a defensive deal,” he said. “We’re playing hard enough on that side of the ball, but you have to play really hard on offense too. We didn’t screen when opportunities presented themselves and we missed some open shots. Rebounding and defensively I’m pleased, we’ve just got to be a little tougher-minded when it comes to the offensive end.”

After the game, rather than head south to Eugene, the Utes went north to Portland where they planned to get in a couple of practices at the Trail Blazers’ NBA facility.

“We’re going to have a couple of practices at the Trail Blazer facility and try to find our mojo,” Krystkowiak said. “We need to keep grinding it out like you do all year and come up with a game plan for a very good Oregon team.”

Tipoff for that game is 7 p.m. MT and then the Utes return home for a game against UCLA Thursday night.