Utah needed this.
The Utes needed to find their way back into the win column. They needed to navigate avenues to winning close games down the stretch. They needed to break a three-game losing streak, enjoy a win with hip-hop music blaring in the locker room and crack jokes on each other in the process.
A 78-69 victory over Washington before 12,226 at the Huntsman Center on Thursday night made basketball fun again. To do so in dramatic fashion made it all a little more sweet, especially after two weeks of wondering what could’ve and should’ve been.
"It was a relief," sophomore point guard Brandon Taylor said. "It was good to get a win. This team never gives up, and that’s the best thing about us. We could’ve held our heads, but we didn’t. We never dwelled on the past."
It was Taylor who made the biggest shot of the game, a gargantuan 3-pointer from the short corner that turned a 67-63 nail biter to a 70-63 breeze with two minutes remaining. At that point, Utah had seen an 11 point lead dwindle to a few missed shots from letting another opponent rally from a double-digit deficit.
And how about Jordan Loveridge? One game removed from playing what was perhaps his worst game as a collegian, Loveridge scored 16 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, handed out three assists and stole the ball twice. It was the sort of all-around performance that had been missing of late from the sophomore from West Jordan. On a night that Delon Wright and Washington’s C.J. Wilcox dominated at times for their respective teams, Loveridge may have been the best player on the floor.
"I just tried to let the game come to me and not do anything too crazy," Loveridge said. "I wanted to go out there and play well and just try to make an impact. Most of all, I’m just happy that my team won."
The win is number 1700 for Utah as a basketball program. For the short term, the Utes win their 15th game of the season, matching last year’s victory total. They improve to 4-6 in the always challenging Pac-12. With Oregon’s loss to No. 2 Arizona, Utah moves into sole possession of ninth place, with Washington State visiting the Huntsman Center on Saturday night.
Taylor was truly a star when it counted. He scored 20 points - a game-high - grabbed three rebounds and handed out three assists. He scored seven of those points in the final two minutes and he made the steal and assist to Wright for the breakaway dunk that made it 72-63.
Wright scored 19 points, handed out five assists and grabbed four rebounds. Defensively, Utah broke the game open with a 13-0 run that featured 10 consecutive defensive stops.
"I thought we were sluggish in the first half," Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "I thought we expected some magic to happen just because we were home. But we picked it up in the second half, and we got some stops. That made a difference for us tonight."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.