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Utah guard Sedrick Barefield (2) in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s aim has improved in Pac-12 play.
In last week’s trip to Arizona State and Arizona, the Utes connected on 59 of 110 shots (53.6 percent) from the field — well above their season average of 47.2 percent. Things have risen even more dramatically from 3-point range. They made 27 of 51 (52.9 percent) over the games against the Sun Devils and Wildcats, up from their 38.3 percent accuracy overall.
“I do think we’ve cleaned up our offensive execution and have a little better understanding of what the shot is we’re looking for, the shot value,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who added that there’s been an incredible change in mindset over the last three weeks in regard to a willingness to share the ball.
Getting assists, Krystkowiak explained, begins with execution.
“It’s a mindset, kind of a big picture thing, that we have to do it collectively,” he said. “I think we’ve come a long way in not taking some forced shots.”
And speaking of which, Krystkowiak noted that the Utes have been doing a lot of shooting in practice.
“Believe it or not, you actually have to shoot in practice. Krystkowiak said. “I think there are plenty of coaches that kind of forget that. You have to commit time.”
” I do think we’ve cleaned up our offensive execution and have a little better understanding of what the shot is we’re looking for, the shot value. ”
Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak
A continual payoff will be out to the test Thursday (8 p.m., FS1) when Utah faces Washington in the Huntsman Center. The Huskies (10-4, 1-0) are third in the Pac-12 when it comes to defending shots from the field. Opponents are connecting at a 39.7 percent (318 of 801) clip. They’ve also done pretty well defending 3-point shots (34.8 percent) and are giving up just 66.5 points per game. Utah, in turn, is scoring an average of 75.6 points.
Although the Pac-12 has yet to have much separation, Washington has been one of the more successful teams to this point. The Huskies have won three straight games. Their last loss was a 73-61 setback to No. 13 Virginia Tech on Dec. 15. Ten days earlier, they fell to No. 1 Gonzaga 81-79 in Spokane. The two other defeats came to No. 11 Auburn (88-66) and Minnesota (68-66).
Krystkowiak said that Washington would have been one of his preseason picks. The Huskies, he continued, are solid with a lot of returnees and a game plan.
Mike Hopkins, who is in his second season at the helm, was the 2017-18 Pac-12 Coach of the Year after leading Washington to a 21-13 mark. Sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell leads the Huskies with 17.3 points per game. Three seniors — forward Noah Dickerson (14.5 points, 6.6 rebounds), guard David Crisp (10.5 points) and guard Matisse Thybulle (9.7 points) — also play prominent roles.
EXTRA STUFF: Utah has six straight wins over Washington and leads the all-time series 15-9 . . . Senior guard Sedrick Barefield tops the Utes with 16.4 points and 3.5 assists per game. Sophomore forward Donnie Tillman leads Utah with 6.1 rebounds per game . . . The Huskies opened their Pac-12 slate with an 85-67 win in Seattle over Washington State on Saturday . . . Former Utah State and BYU assistant Dave Rice is on Washington’s coaching staff.
Washington (10-4, 1-0) at Utah (7-7, 1-1)
Thursday, 8 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700AM