Utes show great balance in an 88-70 victory over Washington State

Washington State forward Jeff Pollard (13) and Utah center Jayce Johnson (34) battle for the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

In the first half Saturday night against Washington State, Utah freshman Both Gach made two layups in a 7-second span, with the help of a Parker Van Dyke steal. He later scored five points within 16 seconds, thanks to a 3-pointer and his own steal and dunk.

Remarkable stuff happens when the Utes play some defense, like Gach's scoring flurries and Van Dyke's soaring off two feet for a dunk after making another steal in the Utes' 88-70 victory at the Huntsman Center.

“I couldn't believe it,” said Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak. “I think he had some kind of flubber in his sneakers.”

Plays like that, and the cooperation of a downtrodden opponent, were just when the Utes needed going to their longest break of the season before hosting Colorado next Sunday.

Having six players score in double figures for the first time since December 2016 created some healthy feelings for a team that keeps trying to sustain something positive this season. Van Dyke can say he also made the list the last time it happened, when he joined Kyle Kuzma and four other double-digit scorers against Concordia of Oregon.

The latest group of six included Timmy Allen (15), Both Gach (14), Riley Battin (11), Charles Jones Jr. (11), Sedrick Barefield (10) and Van Dyke (10). And this showing came against a Pac-12 opponent, although the Cougars are even worse than Utah in defensive efficiency and were missing their best player, forward Robert Franks.

The Utes (8-8, 2-2 Pac-12) took advantage. They led 60-30 with 13:59 to play before allowing WSU (7-9, 0-3) to make the score more respectable.

Maybe the best signs of all in the balanced box score were Barefield's seven assists. That's a much better response to all of the defensive attention he's getting lately, after he forced shots in a 2-of-10, six-point effort in Thursday's loss to Washington.


• Utah builds a 30-point lead early in the second half of an 88-70 win over Washington State at the Huntsman Center.  

• Ute freshmen Timmy Allen (15), Both Gach (14) and Riley Battin (11) account for 40 points, as three of Utah’s six double-figures scorers.  

• CJ Elleby scores 20 of his 21 points in the second half for WSU, missing top scorer Robert Franks.

“People are loading up on Sed,” Krystkowiak said, after Barefield had posted 33, 24 and 26 points in the previous three games. Against the Cougars, Barefield kept the ball moving and his teammates rewarded him by making shots. Three freshmen – Allen, Gach and Battin – combined for 40 points. With center Lahat Thioune and guard Naseem Gaskin, the Utes have a freshman at every position in a class that is “going to be a problem [for opponents] in the coming years,” Allen said, “so keep your eye out.”

As for the current seasont, eight players scored at least seven points Saturday. That kind of shared production will help keep everyone interested and cohesive during Utah's full week of practice.

The Utes are sharing the basketball lately, after that concept took awhile to hit home. Krystkowiak labels moving the ball one of the “non-negotiables” in his program, and everybody was on board Saturday.

The disclaimer is this was basically Utah's only guaranteed victory in Pac-12 play. ESPN's Basketball Power Index gave Utah a 76.7-percent chance of winning, not even accounting for the absence of Franks, due to a hip injury.

The Cougars lost by 32 points Thursday at Colorado and were in jeopardy of being destroyed again before freshman guard CJ Elleby scored 20 second-half points.

Now comes a bit of a dilemma. The Utes didn't respond well after having a full week to prepare for games against BYU and Kentucky in December, when Krystkowiak force-fed them fundamentals. He's promising to do more scrimmaging this time, while saying, “I'd like to be able to tinker a little bit, move into more of that advanced phase.”

That will be required, against the rest of the Pac-12.