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Utes pass toughness test in win over Washington

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah toughened up in Thursday’s 70-62 win over Washington. The Utes put an end to a four-game skid while grabbing more rebounds than the opposition for the first time this season in Pac-12 play. They also defended the 3-point line well as the Huskies were just 2-of-18 from long range.

“I don’t want to be talking about a toughness meter all the time,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who reminded reporters that you can never be satisfied with such things. Same goes for leadership.

“There were plenty of plays out there that we could have been tougher. But, for the most part, we were in the fight and we were scrambling,” he continued. “The toughness part to me, if you think about it, is on rebounding.”

The Utes entered the outing having been outrebounded in six straight conference games. In the breakthrough, Utah topped Washington 44-38 on the boards.

“To me, toughness and rebounding are pretty synonymous,” Krystkowiak said. “So I would say we passed the test.”

Utah guard Justin Bibbins, the smallest player on the court at 5-foot-8, led the way with 10 rebounds. He also had a game-high 20 points.

“We had Bibbins on the scouting report and he got free for a couple ones,” said Washington coach Mike Hopkins. “We have to commend Utah. They did a very good job of how they wanted to attack us.”

The Utes employed a strategy that Krystkowiak wrote on the board inside the locker room.

“This is not a game where plays are going to win the game for you offensively. This is a mindset game where the players are going to make the plays and it involves not turning it over,” said Krystkowiak, who knew there would be some miscues because of the way Washington plays.

Even so, Krystkowiak was pleased the Utes didn’t turn it over in transition or had only one instance where a turnover led directly to a basket for Washington.

Bibbins said the Utes viewed the game as a new start. Activity had to be high, he added, and they were flying around out there.

All nine players that saw action scored, seven grabbed rebounds, six had assists and four recorded steals.

“I think we just really refocused,” said freshman forward Donnie Tillman, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.

Utah upped its record to 11-7 overall with its first victory of 2018. The Utes are now 3-4 in conference play.

“I think our guys were a little bit frustrated and I thought we played with an awful lot of energy for the most part,” Krystkowiak said. “We still made mistakes, but did enough to get a win against a quality team.”

The Utes will be playing for the fourth consecutive Sunday this weekend when they face Washington State (6 p.m., ESPNU) in the Huntsman Center.


Twitter: @DirkFacer