SEATTLE — Andrew Andrews dribbled, eyed the rim and pulled the trigger Wednesday night.
His 3-pointer fell through the net with a little help from the back iron, pushing Washington’s lead to an insurmountable level – barely – in a 59-57 victory over Utah at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Andrews took over in the final nine minutes, scoring 12 of his team-high 19 points to lift the Huskies to victory in their Pac-12 home opener, which was assured when Delon Wright’s 3-pointer from the corner missed as time expired.
“When he gets in a zone like that, he’s capable of making runs like that,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said of Andrews, who was 8-for-14 shooting from the field. “That’s what he did.”
Washington moved to 2-1 in Pac-12 play after outlasting a Utes team that took No. 17 Oregon to the wire last week, but had trouble putting the ball in the basket for too long Wednesday night.
Utah (12-3, 1-2 in Pac-12) missed its first nine field-goal attempts, and didn’t make a shot from the field until more than seven minutes of game time had passed. The Utes finished with a 41.5 field-goal shooting percentage, buoyed by leading scorer Wright’s 10-for-17 performance that yielded 27 points.
Outside of Wright’s dominance, Romar liked the way the Huskies defended, as he did last weekend during their Arizona trip.
“Our defensive effort in the first half, I don’t know if we can play any better,” Romar said.
Still, the Utes were in this one throughout. An 8-0 run put Utah ahead by two with 8:59 to play. Then the Huskies reeled off seven unanswered points, two of them coming when the Huskies double-teamed Wright in the backcourt and forced a pass that senior guard C.J. Wilcox stole before dribbling the length of the court for a layup.
Andrews made a jumper. Wright answered with a layup and a free throw. Andrews made another jumper. Wright made another basket, cutting UW’s lead to 52-50 with 2:53 to play.
Nigel Williams-Goss made a layup to put the Huskies back ahead by four, and after Wilcox blocked a shot on the defensive end, Andrews made another mid-range jumper to push the lead to six. Then he dropped in that brazen 3-pointer that gave UW a 59-50 lead with 1:53 to play.
That was enough, though Utah made it interesting: Wright dunked after a steal and made Utah’s first 3-pointer of the game with 14.1 seconds left to cut UW’s lead to 59-57.
Andrews missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but the rebound went out of bounds off Utah. But Mike Anderson threw the ensuing inbounds pass out of bounds, and Utah had the ball with 9.2 seconds left and a chance to tie or win.
The pass was intended for Wilcox, Romar said, but “he was held up. That’s why we turned the ball over.”
On the ensuing final possession, Wright took the ball to the corner in front of Utah’s bench and launched a contested 3-pointer as time expired. He missed everything, and the Huskies survived.
“We did not want them to just give a straight, blow-by layup,” Romar said. “Teams nowadays with the rules put their heads down and go to the rim, and if you touch them, it’s a foul. We did not want to do that. But more than anything we did not want to give them an open look from the 3(-point line).”
“A contested 3 was probably the shot that we wanted him to take,” Andrews said.
It looked from the start as if UW might take better control of this one. The Huskies used their strong defense to build an 8-0 lead, but Utah wiped that out – thanks in part to five made free throws – with a 9-0 run.
Washington’s inability to separate itself from the Utes in the first half stemmed from the Huskies’ carelessness with the ball. Utah fancies itself a defense-oriented team, and as such pressured the heck out of as many passing lanes as it could. That helped force eight UW turnovers in the first half – seven of them in the first seven minutes – and kept the Huskies from running a more efficient halfcourt offense.
Still, UW’s defense was good enough to carry it to a 26-21 halftime lead. Utah made 26.1 percent of its field-goal attempts in the first half, and finished that period without an assist.
That it came down to the wire anyway is a testament to the rugged nature of the visitors.
“We knew we were going to be in for a fight,” Romar said. “They don’t give you an inch.”
In the end, that was about all that separated winning and losing.
HUSKIES' GAME RECAP
PLAYER OF THE GAME — Delon Wright proved to be a thorn in UW’s side the entire game, leading all scorers with 27 points – and most of them came on drives to the rim that ended with easy layups. Wright made 10 of his 17 field-goal attempts, and 6 of his 8 free throws. Even though Utah didn’t win the game, he looked like the best player on the floor and clearly had the biggest impact.
IT WAS OVER WHEN — Wright’s 3-pointer missed from the corner as time expired.
STAT OF THE GAME — Utah did not have an assist until 6:17 remained in the game, when Wright dished to Jordan Loveridge for a jumper. The Utes also missed their first nine shots of the game.
QUOTABLE – “I think our guys have bought into the defense. I think our guys are now enjoying playing the defense because we’ve taken ownership now, and it’s becoming fun for our guys to play it.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar on adjusting to new defensive scheme
WHAT IT MEANS — The Huskies know they have to win at home to have a chance to play in the postseason, and though Utah is probably better than it was a year ago, this was a game UW had to have. Their defense continued to improve, and though their offense struggled for much of the game, guys made plays when they had to (particularly Andrew Andrews, who can be a force when he’s on).
NEXT UP — Colorado at Washington, 12 p.m. Sunday, Pac-12 Networks.