SALT LAKE CITY – It could have been said after each of the Washington Huskies’ first four losses of this men’s basketball season that they had only themselves to blame.
Stony Brook? California? Stanford? Washington State? They all beat the Huskies. But the Huskies can reasonably claim they could have – and should have – won each of those games.
So, count Sunday’s 77-56 blowout loss here to the 12th-ranked Utah Utes as a first for the Huskies this season.
Without a doubt, they were beaten by a better team. A much better team.
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“This is the first time all year that we’ve been beat by a team like this,” sophomore center Robert Upshaw said, “that I can say actually outplayed us.”
Indeed. The Utes proved superior again and again on Sunday night, eliciting loud cheers from the 13,047 who packed the Huntsman Center to watch the home team make 11 of its 18 3-point attempts en route to a lead as large as 25 points with 9:43 left in the game.
Washington (14-5, 3-4 in Pac-12) limps home with a split of this treacherous mountain road trip, and will host Stanford and California this week.
“Offensively, defensively, we just didn’t have very much margin for error,” said Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar. “Every time we made a mistake, they capitalized on it right away.”
And they usually did it from beyond the 3-point arc, where the Utes found considerable open space against a 2-3 zone defense that previously aided the Huskies in three consecutive victories.
This was the opposite of that. Dakarai Tucker, a junior guard who averages 7.4 points per game, made 4-of-5 from long range and scored a career-best 19 points to lead the Utes.
Brandon Taylor, Utah’s hot-shooting junior guard, made 4-of-6. Jordan Loveridge tossed in two 3s on three attempts. Leading scorer Delon Wright added a 3-pointer, too, but mostly deferred to his teammates. He finished with five points and nine assists.
Zone didn’t work. Man-to-man didn’t work. Neither did anything else.
“We attempted to try to put on a couple of traps to maybe try to disrupt them a little bit,” Romar said, “but we weren’t able to that, either.”
Amid Utah’s barrage, Huskies guard Andrew Andrews had his best game of the season, scoring a career-best 22 points and making 5-of-6 from 3-point range. His outside shooting was the only reason the halftime score, 37-30 in Utah’s favor, was as close as it was.
Andrews is good friends with senior WSU guard DaVonte Lacy, whose Cougars lost by 22 points here on Wednesday night. Lacy warned him that Utah punishes opponents for missed assignments and mental lapses.
“He told me if we make a mistake, they’re going to burn us,” Andrews said. “A couple times they entered it to the post, we turned our heads up, and they got a wide open look. They have eight shooters on their team … so, we’ve just got to get better at knowing who the shooters are, locating them and just staying home.”
The perimeter wasn’t UW’s only problem, though. Utah also made 17 of its 34 attempts from inside the arc – it shot 53.8 percent from the field – and the Utes got a career-high 11 points out of forward Chris Reyes, who played only 16 minutes.
The Huskies tried to make it a game. They fell behind by 15 points in the first half – at that point, it was their largest deficit of the season – but closed the half with a 16-8 spurt.
And after trailing 43-32 early in the second half, Nigel Williams-Goss, Mike Anderson and Upshaw each scored baskets to trim Utah’s lead to 43-38.
It was never close after that. The Utes (16-3, 6-1) scored 17 points before UW made another field goal (they made only 10-of-28 in the second half), and led 60-39 before a dunk by Upshaw – he finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and five blocks – ended the run.
By then, this game was already over, and the Utes were well on their way to their sixth Pac-12 victory. They’ve won each of those games by 17 points or more, and five of them by at least 21.
“We talked before the game about the multiple shooters they have on their team,” Romar said. “It showed tonight. They were running them in and out, multiple guys that can knock down 3s. They made it very tough on us tonight. They’re a very good basketball team.”
After their most thorough defeat of the season, that is the Huskies’ lone consolation.
PLAYER OF THE GAME – Hard to say it wasn’t Dakarai Tucker, who scored a career-high 19 points thanks mostly to his 4-for-5 shooting performance from 3-point range. He made 7-of-8 from the field, and also made his only free-throw attempt. And he did it all in 22 minutes.
IT WAS OVER WHEN – Utah unleashed an 11-0 run in fewer than three minutes to take a 54-38 lead with 12:45 left in the game. The Utes eventually pushed their lead to 66-41, and the rout was on.
STAT OF THE GAME – Utah’s bench scored 32 points. Washington’s bench scored five.
QUOTABLE – “We were down 25 points with eight minutes to go. If we’re going to lose, then we’ve got to cut into that. We can’t lose by 25 points. We can’t do anything like that. We can’t put our heads down. We can’t get frustrated. We’ve got to fight.” – Huskies center Robert Upshaw
WHAT IT MEANS – Utah is pretty clearly at least the second-best team in the Pac-12, and it didn’t earn its No. 12 national ranking by accident. The Utes have several capable 3-point shooters, they play solid team defense, and they have one of the best point guards – and players – in the conference (Delon Wright). There is no shame in losing to such a team. But losing by 21 points to anybody – even on the road – is not what UW needed to bolster its NCAA tournament resume, which doesn’t look particularly strong as they approach the halfway point of their Pac-12 schedule.
UP NEXT – Stanford at Washington, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 28 (ESPNU)
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple