Another game, same outcome, same post-game theme. The Utes dropped another close, winnable game, but this time, but the twist Thursday night was, it was at home in front of a vocal crowd.
UCLA scraped by Utah 57-53, which saw Utah drop to 8-7, 0-3 in conference play. Three Ute losses have come at a combined eight point margin of defeat, but that fact is something Larry Krystkowiak, and the Utes have grown weary of discussing.
"This one is in the books. We can't do anything about anyone we've already played last year, Thanksgiving tournament, whatever is in the past. I'm really kind of tired of talking about whether it's a moral victory, or woulda, coulda, shoulda," scolded Krystkowiak. "It's all irrelevant with the 'we could have been 12-2' and all of that. Whether you're losing or winning, you just keep [working hard] in every game. I've got all the confidence in our guys, and our spirit is strong enough that we're not going to get broken from losing games."
The story Thursday was a tale of two halves where the Utes didn't play up to par in the first, and came out dynamic in the second, but it was too little, too late.
"I was not pleased with the energy at the start of the game. We were not physical, and they took it to us. They scored 10 points in transition, and got 10 second-chance points in the first half. That hurt us immensely," summarized Krystkowiak. "In the second half, I thought we were pretty good. We held them to two and zero points in those respective areas. I don't know why we didn't come out with the focus we showed in the second half."
It was clear, however, what did fire up the Utes to come out the way they did in the second half-a fiery Krystkowiak.
"I really challenged our guys at half time," admitted Krystkowiak.
Senior guard Cedric Martin, who tied to lead all scorers with 12 points, confirmed the half-time nudge by Krystkowiak.
"Coach coming into the locker room and getting on us, that was [a key for us]. He said he really wanted to win the game," said Martin. "He told us what we needed to do to win. I think we won the second half, but the first half just set us back."
Utah once again hung its hat on strong defensive play, holding UCLA to 40 percent shooting, well under the 48 percent season average, which equated to just 57 points for a team who averages 80 per game.
Always valuable defensively, Martin put together an all-around game Thursday with his offensive output. Martin kept Utah in the game in the first half with seven of his 12 points, in the absence of scoring from the usual suspects.
Defensively, Martin played perhaps his best defensive game, tasked with defending UCLA's freshman phenom Shabazz Muhammad, who is one of the top players in the nation early in his career.
Muhammad averages 28.7 minutes per game, shoots .491 from the field and .486 from three-point range, and 19.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
In 32 minutes, Muhammad shot .231 on 3-13 shooting, including 0-4 three point shooting for a total of six points. Muhammad also fell short rebounding grabbing three on the night, two short of his season average and committed two turnovers.
"I love the kid and every team needs a guy like him. I hope there is a little bit of transference, that some of our younger kids are watching," said Krystkowiak of Martin. "He isn't the most talented guy, and he would be the first to tell you that. But he is my kind of guy, a fox-hole kind of guy."
Senior center Jason Washburn also praised his senior teammate.
"There is no amount of words that speak of the value of Cedric Martin. The man plays harder than anyone I have ever been on the court with," said Washburn. "Cedric kept us in the game [early]. He guarded one of the best freshmen in the country, and I thought he did a phenomenal job, like he always does on the defensive end. We are absolutely lucky to have him."
Washburn, like his team, started slow, but came on strong to end the game with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman Jordan Loveridge also did his best work at the end of the game, missing his first six shots, but finishing with 11 key points and six rebounds at critical moments.
Ultimately, none of it was enough, and every Ute post-game acknowledged that in plain words, and with complete candor.
"[Shots] are due to fall, and [losing close] is getting old," said a somber Martin. "I am tired of the moral victories."