Utah Men’s Basketball Determined To Learn From Defensive Mistakes In Arizona

Jan 11, 2024, 2:43 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – The Runnin’ Utes didn’t have it easy last week on the road against the Arizona schools and will be looking to get the bad taste out of their mouth against UCLA this week.

The Utes play host to the Bruins on Thursday, January 11 at 7:00 pm MT and will be looking to show the home crowd they learned from their shortcomings on the road.

Head coach Craig Smith wasn’t bashful in discussing what went wrong in last week’s games- particularly calling out a poor defensive effort that will need to drastically improve moving forward.

Runnin’ Utes Determined To Show Better Defensive Effort

In order to know what you need to do better against an upcoming opponent, unfortunately that sometimes means learning what you don’t do well first. Utah learned that and then some on the road against Arizona State and Arizona last weekend.

“I thought we did some things very well- specifically in the Arizona game,” head coach Craig Smith said. “Then there were some things that were just glaringly bad. We were not good defensively- quite frankly in any way, shape, or form all weekend. I was really disappointed in how we guarded consistently.”

Smith went on to describe what exactly the Runnin’ Utes failed to do well defensively against the Arizona schools.

“I just didn’t think we communicated well enough, I didn’t think our effort was good enough and obviously, our execution wasn’t what it needed to be,” Smith said. “Too many turnovers against Arizona State. The Arizona State game specifically- we didn’t eliminate losing. Too many self-inflicted errors and that is hard to overcome on the road. Against Arizona- I just thought too many mistakes on the defensive end against a team like that gets compounded.”

The good news is that it’s a new week with a new opportunity for Utah to get better against UCLA. Smith admitted the plan for the Bruins is pretty obvious, but sometimes it’s the most obvious things that get overlooked.

“We’ve got to get back to the fundamentals, back to the basics- I know it’s a cliche,” Smith said. “We have to tighten up some things, specifically on the defensive end.”

Mixed Bag News On Injuries For Utah Basketball

One athlete to watch heading into Thursday night’s game is big man Keba Keita who exited the Arizona game early with a lower leg injury.

The good news, according to Smith is that Keita has been progressing through the week, but the bad news is that there is uncertainty either way as to his availability against the Bruins.

“He made a big jump it sounds like from Sunday to Monday,” Smith said. “He made another big jump from Monday to [Tuesday]. He won’t do anything live on [Tuesday]. We’ll test it out and see where he’s at with some non-contact stuff, shooting, some fundamental things. Our normal protocol and procedure. Then we’ll evaluate how that feels after practice if he can even finish practice.”

“I can’t say he’s definitely going to play or he’s definitely not going to play,” Smith continued. “We’ll just find out a lot more as we go through practice.”

Utah also got a more definite answer on another player, Wilguens Exacte Jr., and unfortunately, it’s not in their favor. Exacte has been absent from the lineup since the season tipped off and a procedure, he’s having this week to correct an injury will keep it that way for the rest of the year.

“He’s going to redshirt this year and will be out the season,” Smith said.

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Utah Men’s Basketball Determined To Learn From Defensive Mistakes In Arizona