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Road woes persist as yet another slow start dooms Utes in loss at Stanford

Utah falls into early hole and nearly comes back to victory

Utah’s Both Gach, right, drives the ball against Stanford’s Spencer Jones (14) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

STANFORD, Calif. — Bad starts have been a problem for the Utah basketball team for much of the season, particularly during Pac-12 play.

Let’s see, there was the 16-2 deficit against Colorado that turned into a 25-point margin in the first half en route to a 39-point loss. Against Arizona, the Utes fell behind 14-6 in the early minutes before falling behind by 24 at halftime. The Utes trailed UCLA by 13 midway through the first half and lost by 16. Oregon State jumped to a 22-11 lead and won by 19. Against Oregon, Utah trailed 14-6 and lost by 19. The next time against UCLA, the Bruins led the Utes 16-7 and increased their lead to 19 in a double-digit win.

You get the picture.

It happened again in Wednesday night’s 70-62 loss at Stanford, where the Utes came out like a “junior high team” in coach Larry Krystkowiak’s words and fell behind 17-4 with turnovers on nine of the first 13 possessions during the first eight minutes.

Although the Utes made a gallant comeback, pulling within three in the final two minutes with a couple of chances to tie the game, the abysmal start was too much to overcome.

“We just completely got punched in the mouth and we didn’t get off of the canvas until about the 10-minute mark,” Krystkowiak said. “Defensively we played hard, offensively we looked like a junior high team to start the game. Give credit to Stanford for their intensity, they played like a team that was on the (NCAA) bubble. It looked like we weren’t very well prepared.”

When asked for an explanation as to why his team wasn’t prepared at the start, Krystkowiak said his players aren’t playing hard enough on the offensive side coming out of the chute.

“Everybody thinks when you talk about playing hard, that it’s just on one side of the floor,” he said. “We would have held them to 19 points in the first half if we wouldn’t have given them 15 points off of turnovers. We didn’t screen when it was required, we didn’t use a screen and come off of it strong. There was a lot of passive(ness) on offense. Hopefully it was a learning experience for our group.”

One of Utah’s best players Wednesday was center Branden Carlson, who had his second straight excellent effort against Stanford, coming up with eight blocks for the second time against the Cardinal while scoring 12 points and grabbing four rebounds. He didn’t have an answer for Utah’s slow starts.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “Turnovers really hurt us in the first half. If we could have come out more ready at the beginning of the game, it might have been a different story.”

One problem for the Utes is consistency and not knowing who to count on from game to game.

In Sunday’s win over USC, Alfonso Plummer and Mikael Jantunen scored 18 and 13 points, respectively, and played a big part in the victory. Wednesday, however, they combined for a single point on 0-of-4 shooting,

On the other hand, Both Gach broke out of a shooting slump to score 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, while Timmy Allen had his second straight solid game with 17 points on 8 of 14 from the field and seven rebounds and four assists. Jaxon Brenchley had a nice game off the bench with 13 points.

Rylan Jones played 32 minutes just three days after suffering a shin injury in the final minutes against USC, and although his numbers weren’t great (two points, three assists, four rebounds), his presence helped the Utes.

“It was big,” said Krystkowiak of Jones’ contribution. “He had a significant shin injury and he’s a gamer and that’s a component of being a player. You’ve got to have a little grit to you, between all the injuries he’s gotten. I’m proud of him and the other guys that fought tonight.”

Now the Utes have one last chance to get a road victory in Pac-12 play when they take on Cal Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. MST) at Haas Pavilion.

Krystkowiak hopes his team can play like it did in the second half for the entire game this time around.

“That’s what we need to bottle up — you need to be ready to go,” he said. “In a fight you don’t feel anybody out this time of year. We’ve got to find five guys that are ready to start a game and set a tone for us.”