We just didn’t come out and play our game I feel like. We didn’t play how we should have and that’s what happens. – Delon Wright
SEATTLE — Utah didn’t save its best for last — not even close.
The 13th-ranked Utes dropped a 77-68 decision Saturday at Washington, costing them the No. 2 seed in next week’s Pac-12 tournament and likely a favorable seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Huskies entered the game in 11th place with a 4-13 record in conference play and an overall mark of 15-14.
“They played a hell of a lot harder than we did — outrebounded us by 13 in the second half and we threw the ball all over the gym,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “The better team deserved to win.”
The Utes will face the winner of Wednesday’s Stanford-Washington game in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals Thursday (9:30 p.m., MT) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Krystkowiak acknowledged there was some pride lost in the regular-season finale.
“Hopefully it’s a nice little damn wake-up call for a bunch of guys that have been drinking some Kool-Aid, that think we’re a lot better than we are, because we’re making the game way too complicated,” he said. “We’re a pretty talented team when we play harder than the other team and when we take care of the ball we’ve got a chance. But you can’t come into the road environment like this and be as sloppy as we were and as soft as we were.”
Delon Wright scored 21 points and Jakob Poeltl finished with 18 as the Utes (23-7, 13-5) lost for third time in their last five games.
“We just didn’t come out and play our game I feel like,” Wright said. “We didn’t play how we should have and that’s what happens.”
Utah led 36-31 at halftime after a late surge by Wright. The senior scored seven of the Utes’ final eight points in the half as they overcame a 30-28 deficit in the last 2:02 of play. Wright capped things off by rebounding a missed free throw by Poeltl and laying it in.
It was Poeltl, though, who had the strongest showing overall in a first half featuring seven ties and six lead changes. The 7-foot freshman was 7 for 7 from the field and grabbed a game-high five rebounds with two blocks in 15 minutes of action. The point total was his highest since tallying 18 against California on Feb. 15. He was scoreless in Thursday’s 67-59 win at Washington State.
Poeltl’s performance, which included two blocks, proved beneficial for the Utes — as did a 19-11 rebounding advantage and 57.7 percent shooting from field — as they overcame eight turnovers.
When play resumed, Washington eventually climbed back into contention and seized control. The Huskies reeled off nine straight points while blanking Utah for more than six minutes to take a 47-45 lead with 10:32 remaining. After the Utes pulled even twice, the Huskies took the lead for good at 52-50 on a jumper by Andrew Andrews. The Utes eventually trailed by as many as 11 over the final 7:52.
Nigel Williams-Goss scored half of his game-high 28 points during the game-ending stretch. Mike Anderson and Jernard Jerreau added 15 and 14, respectively. They teamed to make 6 of 7 shots from 3-point range.
Another pivotal point was rebounding. Washington won that battle 17-4 in the second half.
Poeltl, who grabbed only one more rebound after his strong start, said it was hard to explain what happened. He acknowledged not being as aggressive and noted that Washington’s defense didn’t make things easy.
“It was a lack of energy, probably, in the second half — also they made shots,” Poeltl said. “We missed shots and it’s hard to play that way.”
The loss, following the victory at Washington State, prevented Utah from its first Pac-12 two-game road sweep since joining the conference in 2011-12. It’s the fifth time the Utes have come up short on that front.
Despite the setback, it was a breakthrough season away from home for the Utes. They went 5-4 in Pac-12 road games this year, a vast improvement from previous outings of 0-9, 1-8 and 2-7.
“We’ve had a hard time winning on the road and that’s been one of the things we’ve talked about,” Krystkowiak said. “You have to protect your home court and go win your lion’s share of them on the road if you want to be in the upper echelon in the league.”
Utah’s best overall Pac-12 campaign included an 8-1 record in the Huntsman Center. The Utes defeated USC, UCLA, Colorado, Washington State, Washington, Stanford, California and Arizona State at home before losing to Arizona. The Wildcats also handed them a setback on the road — as did UCLA and Oregon. Besides Washington State, Utah’s conference victories outside of Salt Lake City came at Arizona State, USC, Colorado and Oregon State.