It was hard to tell how much the Utes missed Josh Watkins on Wednesday, because they were so busy missing everything else.
Three-pointers, free throws and layups clanked off the rim, and those errant shots found their way into the arms of Cal State-Fullerton players to the tune of a 45-18 rebounding advantage for the Titans.
Missed too, apparently, was first-year coach Larry Krystkowiak's pre-game defensive message, when he scratched "Intensity" across the locker room chalkboard only to watch the Utes surrender a 14-0 lead in the first three minutes.
This, however, is unavoidable: The Utes lost 81-50 Wednesday night, their second consecutive loss by 30-plus points, their seventh overall and the most lopsided loss in the history of the Huntsman Center, which opened in 1969.
"If we start off better," junior center Jason Washburn said, "maybe the finishes will be better."
Bad starts are the theme of the season for the Utes, who at 1-7 are just adding to the worst stretch to open a season in program history.
Fullerton improved to 5-3 after seeing their early season marred by losses to programs such as Houston Baptist and Cal State-Bakersfield. The Titans made their first four 3-pointers and held a 14-0 lead by the 17:09 mark of the first half. They finished 11-of-24 from 3, while the Utes made just 6-of-16 perimeter shots.
"The storyline's been similar with a lot of games," Krystkowiak said, "in terms of the game getting carried away and us not being able to stop people."
Three Utes scored in double figures, led by 12 from junior Chris Hines who was 4-of-9 on 3-pointers. Washburn added 11 points and seven rebounds. Freshman point guard Kareem Storey started in place of Watkins and had 10 points, six assists and, perhaps most importantly, no turnovers.
Through seven games Watkins led the Utes with 17.7 points per game, but on Wednesday was not in the gym as an indefinite suspension was levied by Krystkowiak on Monday after the senior point guard arrived late to practice, the latest in a string of issues with the brash New York native.
One area the 5-foot-10 Watkins wouldn't have likely helped, however, was rebounds.
"We didn't suspend me," Washburn said. "We didn't suspend [starting forward] Blake [Wilkinson]. I'm the head of the rebounding snake, I've got to grab more. Seven's not enough."
The Utes trimmed Fullerton's lead to seven at 26-19, but from there the Titans went on a 17-7 run. At halftime, the Utes trailed 43-26. In the first half, the baskets they scored nearest the basket were their six free throws; they missed each of their three shots in the paint.
Krystkowiak repeated a concern that has metastasized in recent weeks: The Utes can't respond once they fall behind. And they fall behind an awful lot.
"Once things get out of hand," Krystkowiak said, "The effort diminishes. And that's a challenge."
R The Utes suffer their biggest loss ever in the Huntsman Center and the fourth most lopsided home defeat in program history.
• The Utes commit a season-low seven turnovers in their first game without suspended point guard Josh Watkins.
• Cal State-Fullerton makes its first four 3-pointers and finishes 11-of-24 from behind the arc.