Both Justin Bibbins and Tyler Rawson admitted being slightly apprehensive in the moment, but they were able to make their confessions with smiles on their faces in the aftermath of a win.
Bibbins’ high-arching alley-oop pass sailed into the hands of a leaping Rawson as if the two seniors were in the middle of a science-fiction-inspired mind meld. Rawson finished with a loud dunk and put an emphatic exclamation point on the Utes’ performance.
That play came with 3:01 remaining, but it gave the Utes an 18-point lead and just as well could have served as the final buzzer. The Utes cruised in those final minutes to an 82-69 win over Washington State, their second win of the week in the Jon M. Huntsman Center as they climbed back .500 in Pac-12 Conference play.
“I actually just watched it,” Bibbins said. “During the game I thought I threw it too high. I didn’t think he had that bounce in him, but I’m happy he finished it and it wasn’t my turnover.”
Rawson scored a game-high 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 6-of-7 on 3-pointers, while Bibbins added 13 points and a season-high 12 assists as he recorded his second consecutive double-double. Senior forward Gabe Bealer scored 15 points off the bench and knocked down a trio of 3-pointers, while junior guard Sedrick Barefield scored 14 points and dished out three assists.
Rawson quipped of Bibbins’ alley-oop pass, “I thought it was high too [laughing]. Never doubt yourself, I guess.”
The Utes (12-7, 4-4), having snapped a four-game losing streak with Thursday’s win over Washington, led for 38 minutes and 38 seconds of the game. They extended their win streak against the Cougars (9-10, 1-6) to eight straight, and 16 in a row in Salt Lake City.
The 13-point margin of victory also marked the largest this season for the Utes since the start of conference play. It comes just as the Utes get ready to start seeing conference opponents for the second time around with games at Arizona State and Arizona this coming week.
The Utes made 13 of 31 3-pointers with Rawson leading the way. When asked about the quality of his team’s perimeter opportunities, Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said he’d spoken to the team prior to the game about a sermon he’d heard in church that morning that equated the connectivity of sequoia trees to individuals needing to be connected to their community.
“It’s not the individual depth or height of those trees that’s important,” Krystkowiak said. “What keeps sequoias going is that they’re all inter-wound underground and connected. I thought that was kind of a good message to hit our team with. We may not have NBA guys, and we might not be 300 feet tall, but you can get a lot done if you’re kind of tied into each other.”
Krystkowiak said he challenged the team to get 22 assists, which it did. Rawson’s inability to miss early helped pad the assist total. He made his first six 3-pointers before he finally misfired.
The Utes shot 51.6 percent from the field and committed just three turnovers in the first half. Twenty-two of their 42 first-half points came from the bench as they took a 42-32 edge into halftime. They pushed their lead to 15 points, 59-44, on back-to-back Rawson 3-pointers with 14:15 remaining in the second half, and their lead didn’t shrink below nine points the rest of the game.
“We had a tough first part of conference, that’s for sure,” Rawson said. “We went up against some really good teams, and we found out where we were. We’re looking forward to Arizona. We’re excited to go up against them again. We’ve already played against them so we have a feel, and we can make improvements from last game.”