Bleeding Red: Runnin’ Utes’ road effort not there in three Pac-12 losses

On any given night, which team will come to play?
When playing away, it is truly hard to say
Like Jekyll & Hyde as the legend has been told
Utah’s a different team at home than on the road

COMMENTARY — According to the old adage, wisdom comes with age. Unfortunately, that does not necessarily result in contentment, at least not in my case. I’m a much different fan now as a married adult with three children than I was as a teenager or even a young, single college student. Sadly, the change in me as a fan has not necessarily been all for the best.

utesThe biggest change for me has been how I handle losing, and in particular my frustration at the inconsistent play at times of the teams that have a stranglehold on my heart. As I think about it, I think a lot of it has to do with the different perspective I currently have on life in general in comparison to when I was much younger.

When I was in college, I reveled in any victory by my beloved Utes, while losses more or less rolled off my back like water off a duck. Between school, temporary jobs while I positioned myself for a long-term career, and dating, I had more than enough going on in my life to keep me occupied with thoughts of unlimited potential and things to come, which had a strong influence on my view of sports, and Utah’s teams in particular.

As an adult who long ago passed the middle-age mile marker, I have more or less fallen into a number of grooves. I have been a practicing attorney for more than 20 years, working for myself for the past 13 years with no further promotions available to me as my own boss. I have been married to a wonderful lady I simply don’t deserve for going on 25 years, and two of my three children are already adults themselves. With my own life more or less under relative control and running on auto-pilot in many respects, I often turn to sports for passion and excitement.

As an employer, I expect my employees to show up to work every day and consistently give their best effort. It is very frustrating to see someone with more than enough ability to do a job fail to exert the effort necessary to do the job well. As a parent, I see the talents and potential in my children, and do my best to help them achieve it. When my children succeed, nothing can make me happier, including my own successes (and even including sports). However, watching my children struggle, whether as a result of their own doing or due to forces beyond their control, can be absolutely heartbreaking.

Delon Wright was one of the few Utah players who played well Sunday vs. Oregon | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics, Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Delon Wright was one of the few Utah players who played well Sunday vs. Oregon | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics, Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Getting back to the Utes, I will stop short of saying I view the players and the teams as my own children — that simply is not true. However, rather than simply celebrating their wins and more or less ignoring their losses as I once used to do, I look at them in a much different light. I still revel in their victories, but I look much deeper when they lose.

If they have given it their all and have simply come up short against superior athletes, then I can live with that. That is basically the condition the Utah basketball team was in when Larry Krystkowiak took over as head coach. But when they prove through their own performances that they have the talent and ability to compete, but then fail to make a real effort at times, I find it absolutely maddening.

Let’s take a look at Utah’s basketball team. Last year, in conference games, the Runnin’ Utes played nine games decided by five points or less, and went 2-7 in those games. While I would have loved to have seen Utah get over the hump more often than they did and rack up a few more wins, I felt that they consistently competed and saw no shame in their 10-10 conference record. Notably, they only lost two games to conference opponents by double-digits — a 14-point loss to UCLA on the road, and a 32-point blowout by Arizona in the conference tournament.

This year, the Runnin’ Utes are 11-3 so far in conference play. I should be elated, right? I’m not. Happy? Yes. Frustrated? Yes! While Utah has an average margin of victory of more than 21 points in their 11 wins, they have lost all three conference games by double-digits with an average margin of defeat of 13 points. Notably, not a single conference game has been decided by less than 10 points. Call it Jekyll and Hyde, hot and cold, up and down — call it whatever you want — but it is killing me.

Last week the Runnin’ Utes split their road games with a 10-point win over Oregon State, and an 11-point loss to Oregon. Against the Ducks, Utah simply lacked energy, a sense of urgency, and any passion whatsoever. Rather than capitalizing on their obvious size advantage in the paint, the Runnin’ Utes put up more 3-point shots against the Ducks (29) than they did inside the arc (23). Unfortunately, precious few treys went in. As a team, Utah shot 27.6% from long-distance, and when you take out Delon Wright’s 4 for 7 from behind the arc, that number plummets to 18.2 percent.

“We’ve got to be better, and we’ve addressed that,” Krystkowiak said at his Monday press conference. “We just have to play harder. How much better are we going to get right now? Let’s start putting it together and challenge ourselves individually.”

Does the familiarity of the Huntsman Center and a supportive crowd make that much of a difference? Apparently so. We are about to find out this week. The Runnin’ Utes host a potential trap game against Arizona State this Thursday followed by a much-anticipated rematch with Arizona on Saturday.

Here’s hoping the Runnin’ Utes can keep their home streak alive this week, including a big win over Arizona on The Hill Saturday night.

Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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