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Utes face a couple of challenges at Washington State

PULLMAN, Wash. — Utah faces two big challenges Wednesday night at Washington State.

Besides contending with one of the Pac-12’s top players in power forward Brock Motum, the Utes are also looking to put a lengthy conference road skid to rest. They’ve dropped 12 straight games, dating back to Mountain West Conference membership and a buzzer-beating 62-60 win at New Mexico on Feb. 19, 2011.

Counting postseason play, Utah has lost 14 consecutive contests against conference foes at road and neutral sites. The Utes are 0-12 in such games since joining the Pac-12.

There have been some close calls along the way. Earlier this month, Utah dropped a 55-54-overtime decision at Arizona State and followed it up with a 60-57 setback at No. 3 Arizona.

“It’s frustrating — every time we’ve come this close and had it not happen our way,” acknowledged Utah center Jason Washburn, the lone player on the active roster from that victory in Albuquerque.

At the end of the day, he added, losing is losing.

“You’d rather have an ugly win than a loss where you played well,” Washburn said, while noting that there’s something to be learned from coming close. “But we need to find a way to win some basketball games — at home as well.”

The Utes head to Washington State and Washington this week with an 8-8 record, including four straight Pac-12 losses.

“We have got to find a way to win some basketball games,” Washburn said. “We’ll figure it out. I’ve got confidence in my team.”

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak is encouraged that the Utes have “responded pretty well” in hostile environments like BYU, ASU and Arizona.

“I think we’re pretty focused coming out of locker rooms and have put ourselves in positions to get the breakthrough win. So I’m cautiously optimistic about it,” Krystkowiak said. “But you have to bring that on a nightly basis. You can’t rely on what took place in those three games or a fourth game or anything like that. We’re going to have to be ready to go.”

Krystkowiak pointed out that Washington State (9-7, 0-3) is also winless in conference play and in dire need of a victory.

“So it’s going to be a fight and we’ve got to act,” he said.

In order to succeed, however, the Utes must find a way to contain Washington State’s Motum. The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Australian is averaging 19.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. As a junior, Motum earned first-team All-Pac-12 recognition and was named the league’s most improved player.

“He’s a load,” said Krystkowiak, who noted that Motum is extremely versatile with an ability to score inside or out and is a great passer. “He’s quite a challenge for us at that position. He was a year ago and he is for a lot of teams.”

Motum, thus, will be the center of attention for Utah’s defense.

“He’s the pilot of their machine. He drives them,” Washburn said. “So we’ve got to find a way to stop him, to slow him down, to give ourselves a chance there on Wednesday.”

EXTRA STUFF: Utah leads the all-time series with Washington State, 14-2 (including a 2-0 edge in Pullman) ... The Utes picked up their first Pac-12 victory with a 62-60 win over the Cougars last January in the Huntsman Center ... Utah will return home before this Saturday’s game against Washington in Seattle.


Twitter: @DirkFacer