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Changes might be in order for Utes after disappointing home loss to UCLA

Larry Krystkowiak said there could be lineup alterations as Utah looks forward to USC on Sunday

UCLA Bruins guard Chris Smith (5) and Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) react to a call at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.
UCLA Bruins guard Chris Smith (5) and Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) react to a call at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the Utah basketball team has pretty much secured a spot in the bottom half of the Pac-12 standings after Thursday’s 69-58 home loss to UCLA, we might see some changes for the Utes as they finish up the regular season with four games before the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.

Thursday’s disappointing loss, in which the Utes fell behind from the start and were never really in the game, trailing by as many as 20 in the second half, left Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak talking about switching some things up going forward.

The Utes fell to 5-9 in Pac-12 play with the loss and are three games behind sixth-place USC, which comes to town for a Sunday afternoon game at the Huntsman Center.

“This isn’t the part of the season to hurt anybody’s feelings,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got to put players on the floor that are ready to produce and commit to it. At this point it might be time to shake a few things up, see if guys are better coming off the bench.”

Krystkowiak praised Alfonso Plummer for “giving us a lift,” as the JC transfer was the Utes’ best player, scoring a team-high 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting and being the only Ute to sink a 3-pointer as he went 3 for 6 (the rest of the team went 0 for 9).

Another player who earned the praise of the Ute coach was freshman Mikael Jantunen, who scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and came up with three steals.

“Fons showed me something. Miky showed me something,” he said. “We’ve got to get a little dirty and nasty from time to time. I trust there’ll be some changes. It’s not a threat, it’s just something I think we need to evaluate.”

Timmy Allen played the whole game for the Utes, and after a slow start when he made just a single point in the first half, he started looking like his old self, playing aggressively and attacking the basket, eventually finishing with 11 points and seven rebounds.

Branden Carlson was good when he stayed on the floor, as he scored the Utes’ first six points and finished with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. However, he was in foul trouble all night and played just 13 minutes before fouling out.

Rylan Jones also had a good line. Though he only scored five points, he came up with six assists and five steals.

On the other hand, the other two starters struggled, as Riley Battin had his worst game of the year, going scoreless with just one rebound in 14 minutes, while Both Gach had trouble with his shooting again, going 2 for 10 from the field, 1 for 3 from the line and making five turnovers. Jaxon Brenchley, who started five recent games, only played six minutes, missed his only shot and made just 1 of 3 from the foul line.

“I love all of our guys. We’ve got a lot of high character guys,” Krystkowiak said. “We need to scratch and claw. This isn’t a pity party for anybody, playing or not. We’ve gotta get out there and take on a little different mentality and know we’ve got to grind harder than we were.”

Krystkowiak wasn’t happy that his team was outhustled for some loose balls, didn’t make necessary post feeds and got the ball stripped under the basket a number of times.

“All that is encompassed by the word toughness and we’ve got to take on a little more of an edge,” he said.

The Ute coach was clearly unhappy with some of the officials’ calls, as were the Huntsman Center fans who booed poor calls in real time and again when the replay on the big board showed the mistakes.

The Utes lost two baskets on layups that hit the glass before being blocked but weren’t called goaltending, and a foul call on Battin late in the first half that could have gone the other way earned Krystkowiak a technical foul and gave UCLA two points.

However, Krystkowiak held his tongue afterward, knowing he was reprimanded by the league earlier this year for comments after a loss at Arizona State.

“For me that’s one of the areas there’s really nothing I can say,” he said. “It’s best for me to focus on our game. It’s a hard game, players make mistakes, I make mistakes as a coach, referees make mistakes . . . Typically you get reprimanded and get in trouble with the league, and I’ll just stay focused with three weeks to go before Vegas on stuff we can control.”