Broken record

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

With another close loss coming at the hands of TCU at the Huntsman Center on Saturday night, Utah basketball fans might feel like they are watching reruns.

The loss to the Horned Frogs is just one example of the Utes controlling the game early before losing their heads, as well as the lead, and falling by a narrow margin.

There are countless other instances throughout the course of the season thus far. Last Wednesday, the Utes trailed by two late in a game against UNLV when U freshman Stephen Weigh threw up a desperation three-pointer from 35 feet. The shot was off the mark, but Weigh was fouled. With time already expired, the freshman missed the first freebie before making the last two.

Utah remained even with the Rebels through the first overtime, but with 15 seconds remaining in the second, UNLV’s Wendell White snagged a steal and finished with a fast break lay-up, which all but sealed the Rebel victory.

A week earlier, the Utes experienced a similar ending at the Huntsman Center when they played host to Albany. The Great Danes’ Jamar Wilson broke through the U defense to score an easy lay-in with 30 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, the Utes entered the ball to center Luke Nevill, but the 7-foot-1 Aussie couldn’t handle a scrappy double-team and Albany squeaked out of Salt Lake City with a 59-58 win.

In early December, the Utes held in-state rival Utah State and their loyal legion of followers in check for the majority of the game, but Aggie forward Chaz Spicer hit a deep three-pointer with 1.9 seconds left to secure the victory.

This recurring theme has baffled fans and coaches throughout the season, but no one is more frustrated than Nevill, who continues to be the focal point of the offense.

“It’s very difficult for us right now,” Nevill said. “So many of the games we’re playing we lose by one, two or three. That gets slightly depressing because we’re putting in a lot of time and effort in practice.”

Nevill’s frustrations are well-founded and echoed by the majority of the team. Eight of the Utes’ 10 losses this season have been by a combined 21 points.

Despite the offensive mishaps down the stretch, scoring points has not been Utah’s biggest quandary this year.

“Our biggest problem is definitely our defense,” Nevill said. “We’re ranked very poorly in the NCAAs and until we improve on stopping better players from scoring, we’ll continue to have trouble finishing.”

In particular, the Utes have been struggling with their perimeter defense, which has allowed an average of 12 three-pointers in the last four games. Coincidentally, Utah has lost those four games.

“Every team is going to have shooters and (opponents) have been doing a good job getting those players shots against us,” U guard Johnnie Bryant said. “We’ve got to be able to make adjustments and not let those guys get too many looks.”

The Utes have failed to shut down those marquee players for the majority of the year. Early in the year, Santa Clara power forward Sean Denison worked the Utes for a career-high 20 points. Against Colorado, Richard Roby shredded the U defense to the tune of 22 points. Later, in the unfriendly confines of the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan, high-profile guard Jaycee Carroll lit Utah up for 27 points.

“The players know what to expect from Shaun (Green) and Johnnie (Bryant),” coach Ray Giacoletti said. “But past those two, we don’t trust each other enough on defense to know what we’re going to do.”

Now halfway through their tumultuous season, the Utes will try to find an answer to fix their broken record and get momentum on their side for the Mountain West Conference tournament.