Star forward Timmy Allen had a message for his teammates, and University of Utah basketball supporters, after the Utes lost their fourth straight Pac-12 game Monday, 65-58 at the hands of rival Colorado.
Don’t give up on us, said the team captain who has emerged as Utah’s emotional leader as well as its top scorer (15.8) and rebounder (5.6).
In an impassioned and heartfelt plea after he scored 19 points on 9 of 16 shooting in the loss, the junior preseason all-conference player from Mesa, Arizona, repeatedly said the Utes, 4-5 overall and 1-4 in Pac-12 play, “are right there” and ready to bust out in a big way when they put everything together.
“People might write us off, or not believe in us, or say we don’t got enough,” Allen said. “But you know, these last four games, we have been right there. And we just let it slip. Our first halves are great. I mean, even a stretch in the USC game (a 64-46 loss) we were rolling. And then we just get stagnant. We can’t let it happen, man.”
The Utes are in the middle of their toughest stretch of opponents in years, having lost to UCLA, USC, Oregon and Colorado the past 11 days — teams that almost assuredly would be in the NCAA tournament if it began today. They continue a four-games-in-eight-days stretch Thursday afternoon (3 p.m., ESPN2) against Stanford (8-3, 4-1) before wrapping up the rugged string against California Saturday night.
“People can jump ship. But as long as we stay bought in on this, and we continue to work and grind on this, I think we are right there,” Allen said. “We didn’t even play great (against Colorado), and our defense was good enough to keep us in it. We just gotta keep the flow. I believe, man. I think we are right there.”
With pretty much the same team — sans Both Gach, who is averaging 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for Minnesota — the Utes endured a similar stretch last season, losing four straight to No. 4 Oregon, No. 25 Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State — before winning its next two and four of its next six.
Allen and coach Larry Krystkowiak said the Utes continue to play outstanding defense. But they can’t seem to put everything together. One night, it is turnover problems, or shooting woes. The next night, it is rebounding. Actually, poor rebounding has been a constant, save the Oregon game.
“I don’t know exactly what the good Lord has in mind for us with already a difficult year,” Krystkowiak said. “Maybe two-thirds of our basketball has been really good. A third hasn’t. We come out with four losses and it is going to test our stick-to-itiveness. I think in the cliff notes, or a nutshell of our team at this point, is there are not little things. Every little thing is a big thing.”
In Monday’s matinee against a Colorado team coming off a 79-72 upset of No. 17 Oregon and with two days more rest than the Utes, the big things were rebounding and free-throw shooting. The Utes were outrebounded 49-31 and shot an inexplicable 2 of 11 (18.2%) from the line. They are normally a 69% free-throw shooting team — not great, but not awful, either.
“We missed four free throws in the last few minutes of the game,” Krystkowiak said. “You just can’t do that.”
You have also got to maintain a consistent effort for 40 minutes, the coach said. Utah led both of its last two home games by 10 points at halftime before faltering early in the second half.
“In league play, man, you gotta be tough,” Allen said. “And you gotta be tough for 40 minutes. We can’t be the responder in the second half, like we have been. We don’t come out strong enough. That first four minutes set the tone for the rest of the half, and we have to be better.”
Colorado opened the second half on a 15-0 run to seize the lead and Utah never regained it.
“Every team is going to watch the film and they are going to come out hard now, so we just have to improve, man,” Allen said. “We just gotta keep the flow going on offense and continue to get good shots. … I am still bought in, man. I am going to keep grinding, get in my teammates’ ears.
We just got to be tougher, play harder for 40 minutes.”