When the scenes rolled in the film room days before the game, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar urged his team to watch what Utah was capable of doing.
The Utes had lost by three points to Arizona and by one in overtime at Arizona State. Romar stressed that Utah – which came into Saturday’s game 0-12 on the road in Pac-12 play since joining the conference prior to last season – posed a danger to Washington’s four-game winning steak.
That threat was real, as danger shifted into outright anarchy.
A crisp start led to a night of control for the Utes and a 74-65 loss for Washington in Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
The Huskies lost for the first time in Pac-12 play this season and, in doing so, undid much of the positive work it had done on the road in prior conference play, when it opened with three consecutive wins.
“Very frustrating for us tonight, but it’s not something we did not anticipate,” Romar said. “I don’t care what their record was going into this game.”
Utah (9-9 overall, 1-5 Pac-12) is known for its defense. The Utes led the conference in field-goal percentage defense coming into the game and locked down Washington (12-6, 4-1) and the conference’s leading scorer, C.J. Wilcox, on the Huskies’ homecourt.
Wilcox got off two shots in the first half, neither of which were good looks. He was scoreless in the half and finished with 14 points, well below his 22.3 points per game average in conference play coming in.
“He’s the conference’s leading scorer and you have cut off the head of the snake,” Utah big man Jason Washburn said.
With Wilcox slowed, Utah slithered through the Huskies’ defense. Utah’s leading scorer, Jarred DuBois, picked up two early fouls, forcing the Utes to put 5-foot-10 Brandon Taylor into the game alongside 5-foot-10 Glen Dean. The diminutive guards sliced up Washington, setting up numerous layups for Utah big men off ball screens.
After the Huskies had been down as many as 15 points in the second half, Andrew Andrews’ open 3-pointer slashed the Utah lead to 58-52 with 4:04 left. But, in accordance with the nightlong theme, Utah came up with an answer. Jordan Loveridge outworked Desmond Simmons for an offensive board and putback, enabling Utah to steady itself on the way to its first conference win since Feb. 25 when it beat Stanford.
Taylor defined how well things were going offensively for the Utes early in the game. He banked in a runner just prior to the shot clock expiring on one possession. He started the game 3-for-3, including two 3-pointers, giving him eight points. The freshman came in averaging 3.6 points per game and finished with a career-high 19 to lead all scorers.
The flip side was Wilcox. His two first-half shots were a deep 3-pointer and an air ball. Utah played high and tight against Wilcox, denying him possession of the ball. Much of the night Wilcox faced a box-and-1.
“They had a guy in my lap,” Wilcox said.
Washington had no answer. Scott Suggs, dejected and near-silent in postgame interviews, was 4-for-16 from the field. Abdul Gaddy was 2-for-9, continuing his offensive struggles. The Huskies shot 37.3 percent overall (25-for-67).
After falling behind 28-15 when Taylor hit a 3-pointer with 5:33 to go, Gaddy made a temporarily tide-turning play. He rejected Taylor, saved the ball, then hit Suggs on the break. Suggs hit an open 3-pointer to whittle Utah’s lead to 31-25. But, Washburn hit two free throws to yank Utah’s back up to eight at the half.
Washburn hit his first six shots over Aziz N’Diaye, Shawn Kemp and Jernard Jarreau, all of whom could not slow him down. The Utes built its lead at the break by shooting 58.3 percent to Washington’s 35.5 percent in the first half.
Washington waited for the hot shooting to be quelled, but it never was as the Utes finished 60.4 percent (29-for-48) from the field.
“We just took a step back,” Romar said. “That wasn’t the level of defense we’ve been playing and it cost us.”firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas