Dismal doesn’t do justice to the Utah men’s basketball team’s shooting during the first 36 minutes of its Pac-12 Conference game against Washington on Thursday night. The Utes’ 3-point percentage hovered in the single digits for most of the game before landing at 12.5%. They weren’t much better from the field, making just over a third of their attempts, nor from the free-throw line, where only about half of their shots found the net.
But the final four minutes against the Huskies? Those were a gem.
The Utes made 13 of their final 14 shots — a Timmy Allen 3-pointer with 3:59 to play and 12 straight free throws — to rally from an eight-point deficit and shock Washington and most of the Huntsman Center crowd of 9,396 with a 67-66 victory.
“There’s no give up on our team,” freshman point guard Rylan Jones said. “We’re a bunch of tough kids. We just want to play hard and win. We weren’t going to give up.”
Jones played the leading role in the turnaround. Though he had the only miss during that magical stretch, he made up for it by sinking eight of those 12 free throws, finishing 9 of 10 for the game. Most crucial among them were the two he earned from drawing a blocking foul near the left-side 3-point line with 14 seconds left. Without flinching, he put them through the net to give the Utes (11-7, 2-4) the 67-66 lead — their first since they were up 10-9 with 13 minutes left in the first half.
The Huskies still had time to set up a play on the other end of the court, though. With Utah focused on shutting down Isaiah Stewart, Washington’s first-round NBA draft prospect, they fed the ball to sophomore guard Jamal Bey at the block. Bey collided with Riley Battin in his move toward the basket and was called for the offensive foul with .04 seconds left, all but sealing the Utes’ win.
“I knew he probably didn’t have enough time to pass and get a shot so I thought I could squeeze in there,” said Battin, who led all scorers with 17 points, “and luckily they called the charge.”
It marked the second time in nine chances that the Utes had won after trailing at halftime.
Few saw the win coming.
Though Utah consistently had more rebounds, more assists and fewer turnovers than Washington (12-8, 2-5), it couldn’t put the ball in the net. In 24 attempts, it made just three 3-pointers — two by Battin in the first half and the late one by Allen. In the first half, it made just eight of 27 attempts from the field. Washington, meanwhile, finished shooting 51% from the field and 45% from beyond the arc.
Add to that the Utes’ recent slump, including a 19-point loss Saturday to Arizona State, and things were looking dire for the team that inspired many by knocking off Kentucky early in the season.
Allen’s 3-pointer sparked hope, however, and the Utes rode the wave from there.
“I thought our guys, more than anything, they saw a couple balls go in and saw the game was a little bit more reachable in terms of the outcome and we got a little bit of confidence and managed to make a couple plays,” coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “But I’d be lying if I said we had an answer for their zone.”
Allen finished with 13 points — seven of which he scored in the final 4:34 — along with nine rebounds and two steals. Jones also had 13 points and freshman Mikael Jantunen scored 10. Jantunen had the other two free throws in that final stretch, thanks to a smart call by Krystkowiak.
The coach asked the referees to review a play in which Jantunen got hit in the head by Huskies forward Jaden McDaniels to see if it was a flagrant foul. The referees obliged but warned Krystkowiak it would cost him his last time out if the foul wasn’t flagrant.
After review, the flagrant foul was called. It ultimately gave the Utes two more points and added a foul to McDaniels’ tally. He fouled out with 2:04 remaining, leaving as the Huskies’ leading scorer with 14 points as well as two blocks.
The question entering the game was whether Utah, which has struggled in the paint, could stop Stewart, who is expected to be picked in the first round of this year’s NBA draft. To that end, the Utes succeeded. He was held to 13 points and seven rebounds.
Utah next plays Washington State (12-7, 3-3), the No. 6 team in the Pac-12 standings, on Saturday at 5 p.m.