Utah basketball: Ice-cold first half dooms Utes at Washington
Seattle • At some point, it doesn't matter how well you defend. It doesn't matter if you can rebound and get stops. At some point, you have to put the ball in the basket. After all, that's why James Naismith invented the game in the first place.
Utah didn't follow that one simple directive on Wednesday night, and because of that the Utes came up short in a winnable road game.
The final was 59-57, with Washington defeating Larry Krystkowiak's bunch at Alaska Airlines Arena. It was a game that was there for Utah to take, but it didn't get done.
Utah fought all game. Delon Wright had a chance to tie, but a fadeaway from the far corner came up short as the buzzer went off. The Utes came back from a nine-point deficit in the final two minutes. Their three losses this season have been by a total of six points.
"Our defense was excellent in the first eight minutes," Krystkowiak said. "But we have to get better offensively. We have to realize that teams scout much better and teams play better defense in this conference."
The Utes fall to 12-3 overall, 1-2 in Pac-12 play. They missed a chance to go over .500 in the conference for the first time in Krystkowiak's tenure, and they drop to 1-18 away from the Huntsman Center in Pac-12 play.
The culprit was the start to the game and the first half in general. Utah missed its first 10 shots and almost immediately fell behind 8-0. Jammed in that sequence were two airballs, three turnovers and overall sloppy play. The Utes finally scored on a free throw by Wright seven minutes into the action.
By the time the first half finished, Utah had missed 23 of its 29 shots from the field, all nine of its 3-point attempts, and finished the first 20 minutes without an assist.
Yet the Utes remained in the game due to Wright's brilliance. The junior guard was simply sensational, pouring in a career-high 27 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and coming up with four steals for the game. He was so good that the Huskies eventually started to double-team him each time he touched the ball.
But he got little help. Sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but seemed very passive for most of the night. Brandon Taylor had his worst outing of the season, going 2 for 11 from the field and struggling mightily in guarding CJ Wilcox and Andrew Andrews. Dallin Bachynski offered some physical play on the interior, but the big men weren't good on the whole.
"We just didn't play well offensively," Loveridge said. "We have to slow down a little bit. I thought Washington sped us up tonight."
Worst of all, whenever Utah grabbed a lead, the Huskies would answer, usually with a Wilcox 3-pointer, or a mid-range jumper by Andrews. Wilcox, the Pleasant Grove native, had 14 points. Andrews had 19 to lead Washington, which goes to 2-1 in conference play. Freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss had 13 on a mixture of drives to the rim and jumpers in the paint.
"We had chances to win it at the end, but we just didn't get it done," Wright said.