After building a double-digit lead slowly and steadily over the Sacramento State Hornets, Utah suffered a defensive breakdown in the second half to fall to their Big Sky visitor. Besides a defensive breakdown for a large chunk of the second half, myriad issues plagued the Utes late in the contest, including rebounding in critical moments, shot selection and missed opportunities.
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak had a name for it: learning how to win.
"The big thing for us is that we've got to learn how to win," he said. "You've got to put yourself in a position where it's the same sense of urgency on every possession."
Junior guard, and Utah's leading scorer on the night Glen Dean made similar comments.
"I thought we played really well for 75 percent of the game, but we've got to learn how to close. Coaches said that we were learning how to lose, because we weren't picked to win any games. So the idea was to keep it respectable," revealed Dean. "This year we've got to learn how to win. With some upper classmen, we've got to pick up our leadership and close out games."
A key turning point in the game hit at the 7:21 mark, where Utah, still up by eight, attempted four straight outside shots, including three from three-point range, missing them each one.
Sacramento State subsequently grabbed the rebounds on all four misses, and converted on the other end to spark an 8-2 run.
"I really though the turning point in the game was when they were hitting shots, and we aborted the plan of throwing the ball inside. We had three straight possessions where we took shots that weren't us," recalled Krystkowiak. "It was like we were going to take the world on our own shoulders and beat them, and that's not how we need to operate."
With a significantly smaller, quicker opponent in Sacramento State, Krystkowiak was concerned throughout the week in game preparations with how his bigger, longer team might meet that challenge. Friday, his concerns came to fruition as he realized his team has a significant match-up problem going up against smaller teams.
While the point is a problem area, it begs the question of how the Utes, with their size, were out-rebounded 38-34 by the decidedly smaller Hornets.
"I was disappointed that we got out-rebounded. We can live with the fact that they were smaller, and spread us around. They had one possession with their five man was 6-foot-5, and we've got to deal with that," said Krystkowiak. "But for them to have a four rebound advantage at the end of the night, we've got a lot of work to do defensively and rebounding-wise."
With so many issues popping up Friday, Krystkowiak continued to beat the drum of having multiple fires to put out, and things to fix.
"We've talked about it all year so far, and that is, there are no little things. Everything we do in practice is for a reason," he said.
Utah's usual scoring suspects were shut down Friday, but others stepped in to help fill the void. Point guard Glen Dean led Utah with 16 points, followed by Jarred DuBois with 13 points while forward Renan Lenz chipped in 10.
Center Dallin Bachynski scored nine points and also had seven rebounds to go along with two blocks, steals and turnovers. Freshman phenom Jordan Loveridge was not phenomenal Friday, fouling out of the contest with just four points, one rebound and three assists.
Senior Cedric Martin showed some grit, with an impressive line that revealed some of his strengths that don't relate to offense or scoring. Deemed one of the better defensive players on the team, and a "glue" guy who leads quietly by example, Martin tied for a team-high seven rebounds and dished out a career-high seven assists and a career-high five steals to go along with four points.
The disappointed Krystkowiak vowed to break down the game field and head into next week's practice with a clear vision of what went wrong, and to concentrate on fixing them.
Meanwhile, his team said they were anxious to learn from this game and use it as a chance to learn and grow.
"I'm looking forward to Sunday's practice. I think there's a lot to learn from this game," said junior guard Glen Dean. "We need to learn from this game, see where we made mistakes and correct them. When that next game gets here, I'll be able to put this one in the past."
In discussing realistic expectations for his team, Krystkowiak made a telling statement.
"We don't have a lot of Dukes on our schedule, I understand that," he admitted. "But we shouldn't ever be the favorite in a game. Our guys have to come out and play as though we're the underdog. We've been picked a distant twelfth, so for anyone to come out and say our schedule is soft - I just hope our guys aren't reading it because they have to come out and play with a reckless abandon, and like an underdog."