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Analysis: Larry Krystkowiak says ‘bad coaching’ cost Utes in loss at Washington, but players have to share blame

Utes blew another double-digit lead, then crumbled down the stretch in 83-79 loss to Huskies on Sunday afternoon in Seattle

Washington players huddle at right as Utah players look on during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Seattle. Washington won 83-79.
Ted S. Warren, Associated Press

Larry Krystkowiak and his coaching staff didn’t commit three awful turnovers in the final two minutes. They didn’t blow another double-digit lead in the first half, or let a guy who was averaging eight points a game go off for a career-high 28.

But the 10-year Utah coach blamed himself for the Utes’ latest head-scratching loss, an 83-79 setback to Washington on Sunday at empty Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle that cost the mercurial Utes a chance at a rare road sweep.

“So, bad coaching,” Krystkowiak said.

Usually talkative and accommodating in his postgame appearances on Zoom with reporters, even in losses, Krystkowiak was terse and somewhat crestfallen after the Utes fell to 6-7 overall, 3-6 in Pac-12 play and failed to sweep the season series from the Huskies, having drubbed UW 76-62 in their season and Pac-12 opener back on Dec. 2.

This was a game the Utes easily could have won, probably should have won. They led the game for more than 30 minutes, shot 51% from the field, won the rebounding battle by four and got a whopping 36 points from their bench.

Sophomore center Branden Carlson and junior forward Timmy Allen had career games and junior Riley Battin had a sensational first half off the bench.

And yet, somehow Utah lost. They’ve been competitive in all nine of their conference games to date, but have only three wins to show for it. Something is out of whack in this once-proud program.

So maybe the pensive Krystkowiak was right. When a team snatches defeat from the proverbial jaws of victory, fingers are pointed all the way around. He rightfully pointed the finger at himself.

Still, it was the players who gave it away at the end. That’s not bad coaching. It’s poor execution. And this time there were no excuses about fatigue, or suspect officiating. The Utes just didn’t get the job done.

“Yeah, we let it slip away from us. A couple careless turnovers at the end,” said Allen, who flirted with a triple-double. He finished with 15 points (albeit on 5 of 15 shooting), 10 assists and seven rebounds.

“It doesn’t do you much good to fight when you do that at the end of the game. Our last four possessions, we turned the ball over,” Krystkowiak said. “We had three passing errors and one dribbling error.”

Here’s how the finish unfolded: Freshman Ian Martinez hit a 15-footer to give the Utes a 79-76 lead with a minute, 39 seconds remaining.

But UW’s Erik Stevenson got free inside for a 3-point play with 50 seconds left to give UW an 81-79 lead. The Huskies made five of their last six free throws, after making just eight of their first 16.

Jones committed Utah’s 16th turnover with a bad pass in arguably the most important possession of the game for the Utes. Then UW’s Jamal Bey made a couple free throws with 13.9 seconds left to ice it.

What could the Utes have done differently?

“So we would like to have any of the passes back that we threw,” Krystkowiak said, noting that the defense was better in the second half than the first. “I don’t think we were in a big hurry when we threw the one out of bounds to Riley (Battin) in transition. We had a lead. We got into the paint, Timmy got stripped. Rylan threw a ball away and Ian threw a ball away. So, that’s what needed to change.”

Bey was 10 of 11 from the field, 4 of 4 from 3-point range and 4 of 5 from the stripe on his way to a career-high 28 points. Like the Utes, the Huskies (3-11, 2-7) shot 51% from the field.

The difference was at the 3-point line, where Washington was 12 of 24. The Utes were 7 of 18 from deep.

“You gotta make more plays,” Krystkowiak said, lamenting some point-blank shots the Utes missed, especially in the first half. “It was a back-and-forth kind of game. They responded and hit some big 3s when they needed to.”

It was actually an entertaining game, too.

With Carlson continuing his outstanding play since being rewarded with his starting role back, Utah rolled out to a 32-20 lead with six minutes remaining in the first half, thanks to a 16-2 run. Carlson would finish with a career-high 18 points on 8 of 13 shooting, and five rebounds.

“Every loss is a tough one, no matter if it is a close game or we get blown out by 20 or more,” Carlson said. “Yeah, this one is tough. A lot of players on our team today had great games, and a lot of people stepped up. It sucks that we couldn’t close out the game, but we just gotta continue to improve and not dwell on these losses.”

This one will be hard to let go.

Utah went to a zone to protect Jones and Martinez (eight points off the bench), who were in foul trouble, and Washington climbed back in it. The Huskies made seven straight shots, including four 3-pointers, to erase Utah’s big advantage.

“I am not as disappointed in our defensive effort (as the late-game turnovers),” Krystkowiak said. “Certainly, there are aspects that can improve.”

Aspects that kept the Utes from claiming their first road sweep since they beat the Los Angeles schools back-to-back in February of 2019.

“In games of this magnitude, we would have loved to have gotten a road sweep,” Krystkowiak said. “But you have to be better. There were plenty of possessions where we beat ourselves. Give Washington credit. I have no problem losing a game. I just think that it was certainly self-inflicted at times.”

From the players and the coaches, as the head coach freely acknowledged.