This University of Utah basketball season has been filled with ups and downs, peaks and valleys, high moments, low moments, quality wins against good teams and puzzling losses against lesser teams.
On any given night across 23 regular-season games, you didn’t quite know if you were getting good, bad or otherwise out of the Utes. With that notion acting as the season-long backdrop as the Pac-12 tournament began on Wednesday evening, it felt proper that seventh-seeded Utah ran the full gamut against No. 10 seed Washington before winning, 98-95, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
On one hand, Washington’s defense was nonexistent, and Utah was happy to take advantage, getting anything and everything it wanted for most of the night in shooting 60.4% from the floor and 53.8% from 3-point range. A 20-2 first-half run across 3:55 featured six consecutive makes at one points, giving Utah a measure of control that it threatened to give up, but never fully did.
On the other hand, Larry Krystkowiak lamented postgame that there were a lot of one-pass 3-pointers taken. He wanted to see more passing, maybe more looks inside, but the 10th-year Utah head coach wasn’t about to turn his nose up at that shooting percentage, nor was he going to give back 14-for-26 shooting from deep.
“If you can get a one-pass three early in a possession, my guess is you can get one late, and that was kind of the nature of the game a little bit, up-tempo,” said Krystkowiak, whose program registered its first Pac-12 tournament win since a 2016 semifinal overtime win vs. Cal. “This is the time of the year you want to be knocking down shots.”
UTAH VS. USC
When • Thursday, 6:30 p.m. MT
TV • Pac-12 Networks
On one hand, Utah (12-12) put six players in double-figures, paced by Timmy Allen’s 24 points, along with 11 rebounds and four assists. Alfonso Plummer added 21, Pelle Larsson and Riley Battin each had 12, and at least in spurts, the ball movement was crisp and the cohesiveness was evident.
On the other hand, Utah yielded an inexcusable 60 second-half points to the Huskies (5-21). Senior point guard Quade Green finished with 31 on 10-for-18 shooting as Washington shot 57.9% in the second half and 52.9% for the night. Utah turned the ball over too many times (16), gave up too many points in the paint (50), and missed some free throws late as the Huskies hung around (20 for 27 for the night, but 1 for 4 over the final 24 seconds).
“I just think we’re moving the ball well and making open shots,” Allen said. “We’ve come with the same approach to practice throughout the year, whether we win or lose. We’ve had a couple skids, but we’ve had the same approach, same mentality, and we’ve tried to stick to it. We’re excited for tomorrow, we’re excited to still be here.”
Added Plummer: “We have to play more under control. They were pressing a lot, they were doing a pretty good job with that, so like I said, we need to play more under control next time.”
Just like Utah’s regular season, Wednesday night was ups and downs, things to be happy about and things to stew on, things that worked and things that needed fixing. The thing is, the one-and-done, next-day format of the Pac-12 tournament doesn’t allow for much stewing, nor does it allow much time to fix what ails.
Here sits Utah, not thrilled with its overall effort on Wednesday, but through to a Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal on Thursday night anyway against No. 2 seed USC (6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). The extent of the preparation for the Trojans (21-6) is likely to be some film, maybe a morning or early afternoon shootaround, and that’s it. There is no time to dwell on what happened against the Huskies, and frankly, that doesn’t matter much right now.
With Utah’s regular season, its two games against USC offered ups and downs. The Utes lost at the Galen Center on Jan. 2 by 18, but were within five past the midway point of the second half. More recently, they shot 58.6% in the second half, including 77.8% from deep to humble the Trojans’ elite, top-20 defense, 71-61, at the Huntsman Center on Feb. 27 at the Huntsman Center.
The defensive high-water mark of Utah’s season has come against USC as it held freshman sensation Evan Mobley to a combined 14 points, 13 rebounds, and just seven shot attempts in the two games. Mobley, mind you, averaged 16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, and shot 58.2% from the field in being named Pac-12 Freshman, Defensive Player, and Player of the Year.
Utah will need to find another defensive peak Thursday if it hopes to advance to a Friday semifinal.
“It’s crazy to think you’re going to shut him down, but it’s important to impose your will a little bit, be as physical as you can,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s a load, evidenced by the accolades and what he’s meant for their team.”