Seattle • The Utah that played Arizona and UCLA down to the wire showed up at Alaska Airlines Arena to face Washington on Saturday night.
One major difference: There was no moral victory, no wondering what could’ve been. The Utes finished the job and took home a historic victory.
By defeating the Huskies 74-65 before a stunned packed house, Utah exorcized the demons of losing five consecutive Pac-12 Conference games to begin the season. By holding on down the stretch and executing as well as they have all season, the Utes won a league road game for the first time in Larry Krystkowiak’s tenure.
“Tonight we won our first conference road game as a program,” senior center Jason Washburn said. “It felt good to be the aggressor. We got nervous in the second half because we’ve blown leads before, but tonight we didn’t. We kept our composure.”
The victory was improbable. Washington has been one of the best teams in the conference so far, entering the game with four consecutive wins, three of them coming on the road. The Huskies featured guard C.J. Wilcox, a native of Pleasant Grove, who entered the matchup leading the league in scoring.
But Glen Dean, a Seattle native and half a foot shorter, shut him down, taking away his air space, making him put the ball on the floor. Wilcox scored 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting, Scott Suggs couldn’t pick up the slack and with Washburn controlling the paint, Washington couldn’t muster consistent scoring on the interior. Wilcox, an NBA prospect, didn’t score in the first half.
And then, there was Brandon Taylor. The freshman point guard who had played so little for most of the season was Utah’s best player in large stretches. He scored 19 points and handed out six assists. More importantly, his insertion into the rotation has done wonders for a usually stagnant offense. Taylor possesses the ability to create shots for himself and others, something that Dean and Jarred DuBois haven’t been able to accomplish, and that led to easy shots for others when it mattered most.
“He can shoot, he’s creative, and he has a little moxie,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s got a knack for getting into the lane and making some plays.”
Utah, a team that hadn’t led in a game since the Pac-12 opener against Arizona State, amazingly never trailed. The Utes immediately went on a 10-2 run and never saw their lead dwindle below six for the remainder of the game.
In the first conference victory for either the men or the women this season — the two teams had been a combined 0-10 — Utah led by as much as 56-41.
“It’s so much easier to play from ahead,” freshman Jordan Loveridge said. “It’s easier to make shots, it’s easier to run offense and make plays. It’s something that we need to do more of.”
While Taylor was the catalyst, Washburn was dominant for large stretches in the middle. The senior center finished with 18 points and seven rebounds, but had 10 points and four rebounds in the first five minutes. He and Loveridge did whatever they wanted in the paint. The rookie from West Jordan scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds. His rebound basket late in the second half gave Utah a 62-54 advantage. It was the biggest score of the game for the Utes because the Huskies had drawn within six points and a comeback seemed imminent.
After the five-game slide, many questioned whether Utah was regressing.
It’s clear now that the answer is no.
“This feels like Christmas,” Krystkowiak said.
R Brandon Taylor scores 19 points.
• Utah moves to 1-5 in the Pac-12.
• Utah leads by as much as 56-41 in the second half.