Utah Utes basketball falls to Washington State as offense stays silent

Utah played without Branden Carlson, who was scheduled to have an appendectomy on Saturday

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Washington State Cougars forward Efe Abogidi (0) pressures Utah Utes forward Dusan Mahorcic (21) in game action during an NCAA college basketball game at the Jon M.Huntsman Center, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. Utah lost 61-77.

The University of Utah’s defense over much of the past month hasn’t been acceptable, but if the Utes don’t figure out what to do on the other side of the floor, it’s not going to matter.

The Utes entered Saturday afternoon’s game against Washington State ranked 182nd nationally in scoring offense at 72.4 points per game, and 235th nationally in field goal percentage at 43% per game. They hit neither of those numbers against the Cougars in falling, 77-61, at the Huntsman Center.

Saturday marked Washington State’s first win over Utah in the past 14 meetings, and its first win over the Utes in Salt Lake City since Dec. 14, 1946.

Utah (8-8, 1-5 Pac-12) played Saturday without junior center Branden Carlson due to appendicitis. Carlson was scheduled to have an appendectomy Saturday afternoon, but his status moving forward is unknown. The Utes play at Arizona State on Thursday and at No. 8 Arizona on Saturday.

“I’m disappointed, but certainly not discouraged,” Utah coach Craig Smith said. “It’s definitely hard with everything going on.”

A 19-point Washington State lead was shaved down to nine with about 9:00 to go, but Utah couldn’t get over the hump offensively. It missed three of its next four shots as the Cougars, at this point struggling to hit a shot, hung tough on the road.

Three-pointers on consecutive possessions, one from Tyrell Roberts on the left wing and the other from second-year Macedonian freshman wing Andrej Jakimovski, extended the Cougars back a 66-50 lead with 5:45 left.

Utah didn’t have enough of an answer, finishing 35.3% from the floor and 22.7% from 3-point range.

“We missed a lot of clean looks that just didn’t fall,” Smith said. “Maybe one or two of them were rushed, but they were wide-open, standstill, rhythm shots that we just didn’t make. You have to be able to make those shots.”

A first half of runs saw control swing to both sides. A 10-0 Utah run gave it a momentary 18-13 lead, only to have a 9-0 Washington State run give it a 22-18 lead going into the under-8 media timeout.

As has been the case too many times this season, the Utes went cold from the floor. There was a stretch of 8:03 without a field goal before a Both Gach jumper from about 15 feet pulled Utah to within two, 26-24, with 5:39 before halftime. Another stretch of 4:05 without a field goal coincided with Washington State finishing the half on a 12-2 spurt over the final 3:54 to take its largest lead of the day, 40-30, to halftime.

The Cougars shot 61.5% from the floor in the first half, getting anything they wanted in the lane. Washington State found great success on high pick-and-roll action, with 6-foot-11 four-star freshman Mouhamed Gueye deftly rolling to the rim for easy looks. In several of those instances, Utah’s defense looked completely lost.

Gueye led all scorers in the first half with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting.