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Utes will try to be less unselfish when they play USC Sunday

Utah has been passing up too many good shots, says coach Larry Krystkowiak

UCLA Bruins forward Cody Riley (2) attempts to get up while Utah Utes forward Mikael Jantunen (20) and guard Rylan Jones (15) go for the ball at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.
UCLA Bruins forward Cody Riley (2) attempts to get up while Utah Utes forward Mikael Jantunen (20) and guard Rylan Jones (15) go for the ball at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — So far this season, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak has been pleased with the unselfishness of his young team and the way it shares the basketball and plays together.

But as the season comes to a close with four remaining regular-season games, beginning with Sunday’s contest with USC at 4 p.m. at the Huntsman Center, the Ute coach wonders if his team has become unselfish to a fault, passing up too many good shots and having to settle for worse shots later.

“We passed up a lot of open shots, put heat on ourselves late in the shot clock,” he said after Thursday’s 69-58 loss to UCLA. “You have to take open ones. If you take bad shots, which we don’t take very many of, it’s just as costly when you don’t take the good shots when they present themselves.”

Besides taking poor shots late in the shot clock, the Utes have also had a lot of shot clock violations this season when they couldn’t get a shot off in 30 seconds. In fact, that happened on their first possession of Thursday’s game and again early in the second half, coming out of a timeout of all things, after UCLA had started off the half on a 10-2 run.

Following the Thursday loss, Krystkowiak talked about the possibility of shaking up his lineup to get more offensive production. He singled out two reserves, Mikael Jantunen and Alfonso Plummer, for giving the team a lift off the bench as Jantunen went 4 for 5 from the field with three steals, while Plummer scored a team-high 16 points.

Those two could start, or at least take more minutes away from Riley Battin, who went scoreless against UCLA and has made just 5 of his last 23 shots, and Both Gach, who has missed 16 straight 3-pointers and made only 2 of his last 31.

The Utes are playing a USC team that they felt they should have beat three weeks ago in Los Angeles. Utah led for the first 33 minutes of the game by as many as 10 points and were up by two with a minute to go, only to lose 56-52.

The Trojans are fighting for an NCAA berth at 19-8 overall and come into the game at 8-6 in league play after losing 70-66 at Colorado Thursday night. They are led by freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu (16.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg), who scored 21 points on 10 of 13 shooting with five rebounds against Colorado.

Senior guard Jonah Matthews averages 13.0 ppg, while Nick Rakocevic, a 6-foot-11 senior, averages 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds.

The Utes come into Sunday’s game at 5-9 in Pac-12 play, which puts them in a tie for eighth place. Utah will definitely not make it into the top four and receive a first-round bye at the conference tournament for the first time since 2014-15. The Utes aren’t even likely to make the top six, but want to go into the tournament on a positive note with games at Stanford and Cal this week before a home finale against Colorado.

“We’ll stay positive and we’ve got a great group of guys and we’ve got an opportunity to play two more home games, two more road games,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got to earn some confidence and find our mojo going down the stretch with four league games remaining. So we’re going to stay connected as a group and believe in our culture and know we can make a break.”

The Utes will play at Stanford Wednesday night and at Cal Saturday afternoon before returning home to face league-leading Colorado the following Saturday.

“It’s a dogfight for a lot of the middle part of our conference right now, a lot of jockeying, and it will be interesting to see who you end up drawing,” Krystkowiak said. “I’ve got confidence our guys will bounce back.”

Utah (14-12, 5-9 Pac-12) vs. USC (19-8, 8-6)

Sunday, 4 p.m.

Huntsman Center


Radio: ESPN 700AM