Rylan Jones’ University of Utah teammates have come to recognize when the point guard gets that look about him.
That look where he has everything under control, where he is stepping forward as the lead guy despite being just a freshman. Jones had that look on Saturday night against Washington State. All anyone else had to do was fill in around him, if not get out of the way entirely.
Jones was the best player on the floor, finishing with a game-high 24 points on 8-for-10 shooting to go along with four assists, three rebounds and three steals as Utah defeated Washington State, 76-64, in front of 9,807 at the Huntsman Center, where the Utes are now 8-1.
“After a point, you just know that he’s got it and you just get confident,” said freshman forward Mikael Jantunen, who had his best game as a collegian with 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting and five rebounds. “I’m just going to try and set a good screen for him and help him in any way that I can. He’s my point guard and he’s one of the best there is.
“Sometimes, I just stop and watch, which is probably not a good thing to say, but he’s a great player.”
Utah (12-7, 3-4 Pac-12) had lost four straight, capped by a 19-point loss at Arizona State on Jan. 18. The Utes registered an improbable win over Washington on Thursday, then shot 63 percent in Saturday’s win to rise to seventh, two games behind Pac-12-leading Stanford.
Jones got Utah to the finish line Saturday night, but he had help. Jantunen was terrific in 28 minutes, while Branden Carlson continues to be a recent revelation. The 7-foot freshman, who is coming off a two-year LDS mission, had 12 points on 4-for-4 shooting, three blocks and altered twice as many shots at the rim.
Jantunen and Carlson owned the final two minutes of the first half. Already up eight, Jantunen made a move to the rim, and as the defense collapsed, he dished it to Carlson, who dunked with two hands for a 10-point lead. Carlson’s eight-foot jumper from the right side with 31 seconds left in the first half sent Utah into halftime with a 37-25 lead.
“I think what we’re seeing is, guys can kind of relax on the mental side of things and go do what they do, release a little bit of energy,” said Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak, speaking about the maturation of Jantunen and Carlson. “They’re super humble kids and they don’t want any spotlight.”
Utah gave all of that 12-point halftime lead back, but it persevered behind Jones.
His 3-pointer from the right wing just ahead of the under-12 media timeout gave the Utes a 49-43 lead a short time after Washington State had taken a one-point lead. The Cougars never threatened again.
Jaxon Brenchley hit a 3-pointer from the left baseline off a heady drive-and-kick from Timmy Allen (11 points, seven rebounds, four assists). After Utah got a stop down at the other end, Allen pushed the ball up the floor, dropping off a pass for Riley Battin. The sophomore forward hit a 10-foot jumper in the lane for a 56-46 lead with 9:24 left, prompting a Cougars timeout.
Jones brought the game home over the final 5:33, scoring 11 of the Utes’ final 14 points, including nine in a row at one point.
“Rylan has a mentality of pass first, he looks for the open guy,” Carlson said. “He’s not trying to get his or anything like that. Rylan is one of my favorite point guards I’ve ever played with. He’s a team player, always doing what’s best for the team.”