Bleeding Red: Winning is habit-forming, but so is losing

Is it déjà vu all over again
A cellar-dwelling team falling apart
So what does it take to pull out a win
Sometimes it depends on if you have heart

COMMENTARY — Everybody wants to win; some people hope to win; but only a few people actually expect to win.

It takes more than just talent and hard work to win. Attitude is a critical component in the winning equation. Call it heart, call it confidence, call it swagger, call it pure and unadulterated ego, call it whatever you want, but people have to have it in order to win consistently.

It is the combination of those three attributes — talent, hard work and attitude — that defines winners. It doesn’t take talent, hard work or attitude to want to win. People who have talent, but are not willing to work hard, as well as people with no real talent, but who are willing to work hard, will hope to win. Even those with talent who work hard but don’t have that final mental edge will still only hope to win. But it is the people with talent, who still work hard and have that winning attitude who actually expect to win.

I’m not just talking about basketball, or even sports in general. This is something that can be observed in every walk of life. It’s just that athletes are constantly put under the microscope of public inspection, and it is a lot easier to see how this plays out in head-to-head competition.

While there are other teams in the Pac-12 that currently have more talent on their rosters, Utah’s roster is not devoid of talent. To the contrary, with all due respect to the squad Larry Krystkowiak cobbled together at the last minute last year, this year’s squad represents a significant upgrade in talent.

From what I have seen of Krytkowiak, if the Runnin’ Utes lose it will not be because they are not working hard. Particularly in basketball, hard work primarily manifests itself on the defensive end of the floor. Everybody wants to score, but only a precious few are willing to work hard to prevent the other team from scoring. To this very day, Utah continues to lead the Pac-12 in field goal percentage defense and is second in scoring defense.

So what is missing from the winning equation for Utah?

This year’s version of the Runnin’ Utes is made up primarily of newcomers to the program. Many of them are freshman, such as Jordan Loveridge, Justin Seymour and Brandon Taylor. Nevertheless, there is still a good mix of experience and maturity, with four-year Ute Jason Washburn holding down the middle, returning starter Cedric Martin and grad student transfer Jared Dubois. It only makes sense that it would take these players some time to learn how to play together.

In addition to learning how to play together, these players have to learn how to win. They have to learn to find that extra gear in the home stretch and do what it takes to get over the hump. They have to get to the point that they don’t just want to win, or hope to win, but rather they expect to win.

I think that is precisely what Coach Krytkowiak was trying to help them do with a relatively light non-conference schedule that resulted in an 8-4 record.

However, for whatever reason, Utah still has not figured out how to win consistently in conference play. In using the term “win consistently,” I am not expecting the Utes to win every game, or even the vast majority of games. But I do think the Utes are capable of playing better and winning more conference games than their record indicates.

Exhibit A in my presentation is Utah’s Arizona road trip to start conference play. If Utah lacked talent and/or any type of work ethic, they would have gotten blown out of the gym by both Arizona State and Arizona. Instead, Utah came away with two near-misses that could have just as easily been two big road wins.

Unfortunately, as the losses have mounted for Utah, the margin of defeat has started to increase as well.

In Utah’s first seven losses, the average margin of defeat was 3.7 points, with the biggest margin being a 7-point loss to SMU that Utah avenged the following week. Also included in the mix were games against current No. 8-ranked Arizona, plus UCLA and Arizona State, who are both getting votes in the national polls, and a solid (even though it pains me to say it) BYU team. Notably, four of those close seven losses were on the road. Hey, sometimes even good teams struggle on the road.

However, in Utah’s last four losses, the average margin of defeat was 13.25 points, with three of those four losses at home. The biggest defeat was the last game Utah played — a 21-point drubbing by 13-8 Stanford (4-4 in conference play) on Utah’s home floor.

Earlier in the season, it appeared that Utah at least hoped to win. Now it appears that Utah might be slipping into mere “want to win” mode.

Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

As Utah nears the mid-point of its conference schedule, the Runnin’ Utes are in serious danger of establishing a very bad habit.

Utah will always want to win, and at times may even hope to win. The question is whether Utah will ever get to the point that they expect to win.

Maybe not this year, but hopefully soon.

~

Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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