In January, Washington State’s visit to the Huntsman Center was just what Utah needed after struggling offensively in a loss to Washington.
Six weeks later, another meeting with WSU logically is well-timed for the Utes, except for one problem: These are not last month's Cougars.
WSU forward Robert Franks is healthy and the Cougars have played some of the Pac-12's best basketball lately, going into Saturday's game at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, Wash. They swept the Arizona schools on the road, almost knocked off league-leading Washington last week and then overtook Colorado at the end of a 76-74 victory Wednesday.
The Cougars may not provide the cure the Utes need, after a 62-45 defeat at Washington. Utah responded to a 69-53 loss to Washington in January by scoring 60 points in the first 27 minutes against WSU and leading by 30 on the way to an 88-70 victory.
Franks, who missed that game with a hip injury, leads the Pac-12 with a 22.1-point scoring average. The Cougars also will provide more defensive resistance this time, and who knows how the Utes will perform after their showing in Seattle? Utah went nearly 16 minutes between baskets and finished with more turnovers (18) than field goals made (14). The Utes shot 28 percent for the game and scored 28 points in the final 33 minutes — and even those numbers were aided by a late flurry of offense.
Coach Larry Krystkowiak rationalized the Utes' struggles by saying they're not “the only team … that is playing Washington that is scratching their head, trying to figure some things out.”
Utah’s offensive effort was almost as futile against the Huskies in Salt Lake City last month, and then the Utes produced six double-figures scorers against the Cougars. They’ll need another turnaround Saturday, after Sedrick Barefield and Donnie Tillman — Utah’s Nos. 1 and 3 scorers for the season — went scoreless in the last 33 minutes Wednesday.
With four games remaining in the regular season, the Utes (8-6) are tied for fourth place with USC and own the tiebreaker (at the moment) with the Trojans. Viewed another way, though, Utah is only 1½ games ahead of ninth-place Oregon, and the Ducks have the tiebreaker. The Utes are one of the teams that’s hurt by playing California (0-14) only once this season in the Pac-12′s rotation. Colorado, Oregon and Oregon State have similar schedules.
UTAH AT WASHINGTON STATE
At Beasley Coliseum, Pullman, Wash.
Tipoff: Saturday, 6 p.m. MST.
TV: Pac-12 Networks.
Radio: ESPN 700.
Records: Utah 14-12 (8-6 Pac-12); WSU 11-15 (4-9 Pac-12).
Series history: Utah leads, 24-4.
Last meeting: Utah 88, WSU 70 (Jan. 12).
About the Utes: Freshman forward Timmy Allen missed Wednesday’s loss at Washington with back trouble and his status is likely a game-time decision. Donnie Tillman started in Allen’s place and went scoreless for the first time since his eight-minute stint in a win at Washington last season … Utah went 6 of 26 on 2-point shots and 8 of 24 on 3-pointers vs. the Huskies and was never in the game after halftime, despite playing some of its best defense of the season.
About the Cougars: Washington State survived a tense finish against Colorado on Wednesday, as the Buffaloes missed their last six shots from the field in a 76-74 loss. … The Cougars remain in 11th place in the Pac-12, but have shown they may be dangerous in the conference tournament. … Freshman guard CJ Ellebe scored 20 of his 21 points in the second half in Salt Lake City in January, when the Cougars cut a 30-point deficit to 15 at one stage.