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Timmy Allen has the hot hand — finally! — in Utes win over Cal

Utah Utes forward Timmy Allen (1) attempts to score a 3-pointer during a game against the California Golden Bears at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020.
Utah Utes forward Timmy Allen (1) attempts to score a 3-pointer during a game against the California Golden Bears at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Though Timmy Allen has continued to play well for the Utes overall — and has provided some valuable leadership for the young team — the sophomore has struggled to shoot the ball since Pac-12 action began.

Make that had struggled to shoot the ball.

The Utes were sparked by his hot hand and their stingy defense en route to a 60-45 victory over California on Saturday night at the Huntsman Center.

Allen scored a game-high 21 points and sank half of his 16 shots to help Utah follow its impressive win over Stanford with a blowout victory over the other Bay Area team.

Allen single-handedly held off the Bears, scoring 14 of Utah’s final 20 points.

Can you hear that sigh of relief?

It sounds almost as good as the net swishing for Allen on this night, something that hadn’t happened regularly for him in almost two months.

“I’ve been missing shots that I should make — and still today, truthfully,” Allen said. “But it feels good. I’ve got a lot more work to do. I’m just glad we got the W. That’s all that matters.”

All the better if a good shooting performance and a good scoreboard result coincide.

That simply hasn’t been the case in Pac-12 action.

Prior to Saturday’s breakout game, Allen had only successfully made 32.4% of his shots in 10 conference games. Even worse, he’d only made three of 17 attempts from 3-point range. He hadn’t hit 50% of his shots since sinking 8 of 15 field goals in the upset win over Kentucky on Dec. 18 — 12 games ago.

That low shooting percentage came after the small forward had earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors twice in December and shot a sizzling 53.3% against the Utes’ non-conference opponents (including a 12-for-20, 27-point night against BYU).

If you think a shooting slump is going to bother Utah’s team leader and top scorer, you don’t know this kid very well. Allen said he just kept putting time in at the gym when he could, getting reps and trying to work his way back into more consistent results.

“It’s all I can do,” he said.

Like he’s been preaching to his teammates through the highs and lows of a rollercoaster season, Allen was determined to keep a positive attitude even when his shots weren’t falling.

“Your spirit is something nobody can touch,” Allen said. “Especially with the whole Kobe (Bryant) thing, it kind of put life into perspective. I’m blessed, man. If I miss shots, it’s a game, so get back in the gym and put some more work in and love what I do. There ain’t no complaining.”

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said his team’s leading scorer — Allen is averaging 18.4 points — has had some “self-inflicted” shooting issues. Allen has a tendency to attract a crowd, and he gets into trouble sometimes when he forces shots against bigger opponents while being double-teamed. With that in mind, Krystkowiak said he liked what he heard from a commentator while watching an NBA game this past week: “If you have the ability to draw multiple people, along with that you have the responsibility of making sure you move the ball.”

Krystkowiak definitely wants Allen to keep shooting the higher-percentage shots because he’s the Utes’ most explosive scorer, but he also desires for him to get other teammates involved and to set them up for success. He loved that Allen had eight assists at USC (in a game where he shot 5-for-20).

“When he gets into that mindset to find that blend I think is the big thing,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got to continue to work on it. It’s a fine line, too, because he’s super capable to get us some buckets.”