Utah ends a frustrating week in the same place it began — without a road win in Pac-12 play
The Runnin’ Utes provided little resistance defensively in falling by a season-worst 25 at Washington
Utah’s season hit a new low Saturday night against a Washington team that entered their matchup having lost three of four.
The Runnin’ Utes had a familiar list of road issues crop up — lackluster defense, turnover troubles and long stretches of getting outplayed — as the Huskies raced past visiting Utah 98-73 at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle.
Washington shot 57.4% against a hapless defense — it was the Utes’ second-worst shooting percentage it has allowed all season, only behind allowing Arizona to shoot 60.3% in a road loss to the Wildcats earlier this month.
The Huskies captured the momentum early, going on a 12-1 run after Utah took its only lead at 5-3 on a Branden Carlson 3-pointer.
That set the tone as Washington rolled to the victory in a game that marked the halfway point of conference play for Utah (14-7, 5-5 Pac-12).
This far into the season, the Utes have plenty of questions about how to turn things around after falling to 0-5 on the road in Pac-12 play.
“We shoot 47% from the field and only have six less shots than them and we lose by 25, so you’ve got to tighten up on the defensive end,” said Utah coach Craig Smith. “I thought we did a pretty solid job of keeping them out of transition, but the half court we just didn’t have an answer for anything. Our screen roll covers got to be better, our position defense has to be better.
“We’ve got to play with more physicality. We’ve got to communicate at a higher level. We’ve got to play hard without fouling.”
For a brief minute, Utah captured some momentum and used a 10-2 spurt to cut the Huskies’ lead from double-digits down to a more manageable 37-30 with 3:30 left in the first half.
After a missed free throw from Keba Keita that could have cut further into that deficit, though, Washington went on a 9-0 run to take a 46-30 lead into intermission.
The Huskies (12-9, 4-6 Pac-12) shot 62.1% in the first half, and Utah provided little resistance in trying to slow them down in the second half.
Key stretch: Utah trimmed a double-digit deficit down to 37-30 with 3:30 left in the first half, but Washington scored the final nine points of the half and pulled away in the second half.
Top performers: Keion Brooks Jr. paced the Huskies with 27 points, four rebounds, a block and a steal. Moses Wood added 17 points, including four 3-pointers, and seven rebounds, while Sahvir Wheeler had a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists and added three steals.
Deivon Smith had 20 points and three assists in the losing effort.
Turnovers: Washington turned 14 Utah turnovers into 23 points, while the Utes got 13 points off nine Huskies turnovers.
Shooting: Washington shot 57.4% from the field, the second-worst opposing shooting percentage the Utes have given up this season, while Utah shot 46.8%.
The Huskies led by as many as 36 before a late Utes run prevented this one from going down as one of the largest margins of defeat in program history.
While Utah shot a respectable 46.8% from the floor, and 54.8% in the second half, the Utes couldn’t muster anywhere near the kind of defensive energy they needed to make a game of it.
“You gotta have a great competitive spirit. You have to be able to guard people to have success and we haven’t done that, specifically on the road, and it takes it takes all of us, you know, communication, toughness, have an edge,” Smith said.
“... The consistent theme is just positioning and communication, and that has to be better if we want to finish this thing up the right way.”
Keion Brooks Jr. led four Huskies in double-figures with 27 points while adding four rebounds, a block and a steal.
Moses Wood splashed in 17 points, including four 3-pointers, and had seven rebounds, while Sahvir Wheeler put up a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists and added three steals.
Deivon Smith had 20 points and three assists in the losing effort for Utah, one game after he missed a good portion of the Utes’ loss at Washington State after getting injured in the first half contesting a 3.
Smith was back Saturday night, but the point guard — inserted into the starting lineup with Rollie Worster missing time due to injury, along with Lawson Lovering — and his energy did little to quell Washington’s attack.
Instead, the Utes didn’t do themselves any favors by turning the ball over 14 times, and the Huskies cashed in those miscues for 23 points.
Smith had five of those turnovers, while Gabe Madsen added four.
In the lopsided loss, Utah’s coach did give true freshman forward Jake Wahlin an extended look. The returned missionary played a season-high 16 minutes and scored four points, hitting his first two field goals as a Ute.
Wahlin, the Timpview High product, also had four rebounds and a blocked shot in a rare chance to show off what he can do.
“I thought he gave us a great spark. Jake’s gonna be a very good player. He’s been dealing with a few kind of minor injury things and we feel like he’s past that and he’s really rounding into form,” Craig Smith said.
“He’s gonna have great opportunities — he’s 6-9 and really understands the game but rarely makes the wrong play, so I thought he did a really good job. A typical freshman, he got four fouls, but he did some great things for us.”
The Utes will now have to hope that returning home can help remedy some of the lost momentum from a week in which they lost two games by an average of 22.5 points.
Utah will stay in Salt Lake City the next two weeks, a place where the Utes have yet to lose this season.
“We still have 10 league games left and and there’s a lot to fight for,” Craig Smith said, “but certainly, it’s going to be back to the basics.”
The Utes return home for a game against Colorado next Saturday (3 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network).
The Buffaloes are coming off a 78-69 loss at Washington State.
Utah will stay at home the week after that, with games against No. 9 Arizona (Feb. 8) and Arizona State (Feb. 10).