There were fleeting moments of hope in the second half, mini runs that kept the crowd involved but never quite implied that Washington might actually beat Utah on Saturday night.
To do that, the Huskies would have needed to guard somebody, anybody, and they don’t do that often. They especially don’t do that against the Utes, who again made scoring against Washington look really, really easy.
This layup line concluded with a 94-72 Utah victory, a wider margin than might have been expected when UW trimmed the deficit to eight points midway through the second half, but a fitting final considering the assault the Utes launched upon the nets at Hec Edmundson Pavilion — and the absence of any meaningful resistance by the Huskies.
UW coach Lorenzo Romar had insisted the Huskies were making progress, getting better, more closely adhering to the team’s defensive principles. Then came Saturday, and, yeah.
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“Tonight was kind of an exam to see,” Romar said, “and we failed the exam. We took some steps backwards defensively, for sure.”
Try leaps. The Utes shot 60.0 percent from the field, but only because they cooled down in the second half. Utah made 21 of its 31 field-goal attempts in the first half — 67.7 percent — as Devon Daniels and Lorenzo Bonam and Kyle Kuzma all drove to the rim and scored and scored and scored, ball screen after ball screen resulting in layup after layup.
That trio combined for 70 points — 24 apiece for guards Daniels and Bonam, 22 for forward Kuzma — and each made 10 field goals. As a team, Utah made 39 field goals, 20 of which were scored as layups or dunks. The Utes scored 60 points in the paint, 10 more than they scored in a 90-82 victory over Washington last season in Salt Lake City, a game in which Utah shot 70.4 percent from the field in the second half. (Hey, maybe the Huskies really are making progress.)
Oh, and Utah’s leading scorer, junior forward David Collette, did not make the trip due to injury. But the Utes don’t lack for size, and it wasn’t Utah’s big men who did most of the damage anyway. Their guards ate the Huskies alive on ball screens, which prompted Romar to switch to a four-guard lineup in an attempt to switch more and stay in front of the dribbler.
That didn’t work, either.
“When we went big early, they were beating us on the ball screen and driving around us,” Romar said, “so we went smaller to try to switch things. So they beat us both ways.”
Utah (14-5, 5-2 in Pac-12) led 53-40 at halftime, the Huskies hanging around thanks to — who else? — star freshman guard Markelle Fultz, who continues to excel despite UW’s season-long tailspin. Fultz scored 30 points in this game on 10-for-18 shooting, and also led UW with seven rebounds and four assists.
His 3-pointer with 10:31 remaining in the game cut Utah’s lead to 71-63, the announced crowd of 8,895 beginning to sense a comeback similar to Wednesday’s against Colorado.
But it didn’t happen. Each time UW cut the Utes’ lead to single-digits in the second half — the Huskies accomplished that three times — Utah answered with at least two consecutive made field goals to remain comfortably ahead.
Bonam drove for two baskets in response to Fultz’s 3-pointer, the start of a 10-0 run that turned a mildly interesting affair into a blowout.
The Huskies (9-10, 2-5) shot only 37.3 percent from the field, made only 10 of 28 3-point attempts and missed half of their 24 tries from the free-throw line. But they could have at least made this game competitive if not for so many defensive lapses.
“They do a good job of spreading the floor, and any mistake you make, they make you pay for it,” said Fultz, whose transcendent skills continue to be wasted during this forgotten season. “They did a good job of just waiting for us to make that one mistake and taking advantage of it.”
One mistake, over and over and over again.
“We’ve just got to lock in the whole game, mentally and physically,” Fultz said. “We keep not communicating on switches when we’re supposed to switch. … We’ve just got to physically and mentally be focused.”
Instead they were physically and mentally beaten, outclassed on their home floor yet again.
Game in review
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Markelle Fultz was outstanding, but his 30 points obviously didn’t mean much in a 22-point loss. So the nod here goes to freshman guard Devon Daniels, who scored 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting from the field. He also had three assists and six rebounds, and made all three of his 3-point attempts.
PLAY OF THE GAME: There really wasn’t one. Utah pounded UW into submission with a steady stream of dribble drives and easy layups, running away in the final 10 minutes to seal the blowout.
STAT OF THE GAME: Utah made 39 field goals, and 20 of them were scored as layups or dunks.
QUOTABLE: “I think sometimes our want-to is taken away because we get distracted by things that are going on in the game. Just our team right now, the makeup of our team, if certain things don’t go our way right now, we don’t have the wherewithal to stick with the course. Stick with the course. When we were coming back, we made our run, shots start going in, we’re up. But we have to get over the mental hurdle. Things aren’t going our way, you stay steady. That’s what veteran teams do. That’s what really good teams do.” —Huskies head coach Lorenzo Romar
WHAT IT MEANS: Few thought the Huskies would win this game, and Utah is a solid, veteran team. But UW’s lack of defensive discipline continues to be a major issue. And Romar’s comments about their mental toughness — or lack thereof — are telling.
UP NEXT: Washington at Arizona State, 8 p.m. Wednesday (ESPNU)