Shooting struggles on road

Oregon State’s Cheikh N’diaye blocks a shot by Jeremy Olsen at the Huntsman Center on Jan. 4. — Chris Ayers Colby Patterson
Oregon State’s Cheikh N’diaye blocks a shot by Jeremy Olsen at the Huntsman Center on Jan. 4. Photo by Chris Ayers.

Oregon State’s Cheikh N’diaye blocks a shot by Jeremy Olsen at the Huntsman Center
on Jan. 4. Photo by Chris Ayers.

The Utes are in the midst of a three-game losing streak with all the losses coming away from the Huntsman Center. Unfortunately for Utah, it’s not just road woes keeping it from returning to the winning column, as two key players have taken turns struggling, and with those struggles have come defeat.

Sophomores Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge were solid contributors on last year’s squad and with a year of experience have proven they are capable of taking on more responsibility. With that increasing responsibility comes more pressure from opposing defenses, which has proved to be a trial at times for the duo.

Taylor is one of the best shooters on the team, but since entering conference play he has struggled to find the bottom of the net.

Going into last Saturday’s contest against Colorado, Taylor was shooting just 28 percent from behind the arc. Removing his game against Oregon State, where he went 5-for-6 from long distance, his three-point shooting percentage plummets to 17 percent. Away from the Huntsman Center, an even more disturbing trend was appearing. In the four road games prior to the Buffaloes, Taylor had made just one triple in 14 tries for a chilly seven percent.

Taylor had a breakthrough game against Colorado, hitting five threes, including a triple with six seconds remaining that sent the game to overtime.
“It felt good to get finally get some shots going down,” Taylor said. “The last shot was definitely a confidence-builder for me, and when it went down, I just thought, ‘Yeah, today is my day.’ ”

With more days like that, the Utes will have a legitimate third option outside of Loveridge and junior Delon Wright. But as Taylor’s slump appears to be ending, Utah is hoping Loveridge isn’t entering one.

Loveridge opened the conference schedule scoring 15 or more points in five of the first seven contests. In the last two, however, it seems his shot has left him. Against Arizona he connected on just 4-of-14 shots and then outdid that with a four-point performance, shooting 2-for-11 against the Buffaloes.

“He’s a young man that is halfway through his sophomore year,” head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “I think sometimes the expectations are, you have to put up big numbers night-in and night-out. He’s at the top of teams’ scouting reports — things aren’t going to be easy for him.”

During his difficult stretch, Taylor never appeared to hang his head, and nor has Loveridge. At practice Tuesday, Loveridge could be seen joking with teammates and smiling.

“He hasn’t been playing as well as he would like, and there’s a lot of guys on our team that probably feel the same way,” Krystkowiak said. “Whenever we lose these close games, hopefully everyone is trying to find a way to improve their own performance, and that will lead to us winning some of these games.”

The Utes are halfway through their conference slate, and Krystkowiak has said he prefers to lose games early in the conference season rather than late. The team is confident that the individual struggles can be overcome and wins will be soon to follow.

r.miller@chronicle.utah.edu