Takeaways: Runnin’ Utes Losing Streak Hits Four
The Runnin’ Utes fell to the Washington State Cougars on Saturday, 77-61. The loss dropped Utah to .500 on the season and 1-5 in Pac-12 play.
The adversity the team has faced in the first year of the Craig Smith era continued before the game, as starting center Branden Carlson was suddenly out with an appendicitis attack. Regardless, it was the hot three-point shooting from the Cougars that won this matchup.
Here are the takeaways from the game:
The three-point shot made the difference
The Cougars were scorching hot in the first half from behind the arc, shooting 7-11. They would go on to finish 12-30 for the game for 40% in their victory. The Utes on the other hand, went 1-5 in the first half and 5-22 overall for 22.7%. In an otherwise pretty evenly matched game, this disparity made all the difference.
After a hot game against Washington, Gabe Madsen finished 0-4. Riley Battin finished 1-5 and Stefanovic was 1-4. Contrast that to Tyrell Roberts and Andrej Koulibaly who were 5-9 and 3-5, respectively, for Washington State.
Utah sharpshooter David Jenkins only got off two on the night, as the Utes had no answer in this category against the Cougars.
No quick fix
The reality to this team is that this is probably a 2-3 year overhaul project. Smith was left with some nice players from the Krystowiak era, Carlson being one and a solid recruit in Lazar Stefanovic, who is having his moments. The lack of player development from the previous staff has made it impossible in recent years for any upward trajectory. And that still seems to be the case with most of the ones remaining from previous years, other than Carlson.
When players have been under-developed, some will have breakthroughs under new staffs and new methodology. Carlson is the one that has grown in an impactful way, but now he’s likely out for the next three weeks due to his emergency appendicitis surgery.
Additionally, with the new Salt Lake County mask mandate, the recent play of the team—and also probably a Rose Bowl hangover—attendance was a reported 7,578. By the end of his tenure, Krystowiak had irritated the fanbase so badly that the fans quit attending games. A strong fanbase won't return overnight, whether Utah is a competitive team or not. At the end of the day, wins will rebuild a once proud basketball tradition.
Yes, Smith has frustrated some with his early recruiting, but he deserves time beyond two-thirds of the first season. Some argue that Krystowiak was given far too much time and second chances that led to the current state of the program.
Many remember the initial 6-25 season for Krystkowiak and a second season of 15-18 preceded a run of four seasons in a row of 20 wins or more before falling back to earth with 17, 16, and 12 wins. The final two seasons featured sub-.500 conference records. For reference, some will remember that Krystkowiak inherited a back-to-back losing season squad from the Boylen-era, who inherited a similar situation from Giacoletti.
Only time will tell if Smith can get the program back remotely close to the Majerus era level of success that so many crave. Recent program history shows though, that it’ll take time.
The Runnin’ Utes travel to Arizona on the 13th to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils. It’s their first matchup in two seasons, after both of last year’s games were postponed due to Covid outbreaks. Once again however, the game could be in question as Arizona State had to postpone last week’s games due to a Covid outbreak on their team. The Utes will then face the no. 8 Arizona Wildcats and old friend Pelle Larsson this upcoming Saturday.