SALT LAKE CITY — Utah offered up a textbook example of a worst-case scenario on offense during the first half of its game against Washington.
The Utes turned over the ball early and often. For 20 minutes, they struggled to sustain any semblance of offensive rhythm for large stretches. It seemed more than a little ironic in that situation that Utah managed to scratch out a one-point halftime lead.
Seeing how everything played out gave Utah a strange dose of confidence. The Utes believed the game would unfold differently in the second half.
Indeed, Utah had no offensive struggles after halftime. The Utes shot 68 percent from the field in the second half and pulled away from the Huskies for a 78-69 victory on Thursday night.
“We knew the offense was going to eventually click and it clicked in the second half,” sophomore guard Brandon Taylor said. “We just knew if we kept our defense up, it was going to come. So we just had to be patient. It was one of those things where we had to weather the storm while the storm was here. When that storm clears, it’s a bright and sunny day.”
Taylor scored 20 points to lead Utah (15-7, 4-6 Pac-12) to its first home win over Washington since 1970. Delon Wright chipped in 19 points while Jordan Loveridge added 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Utes, who also snapped a three-game losing streak in conference play.
Utah pulled away in the second half despite committing 17 turnovers. The biggest difference for the Utes came around the basket. Utah had 40 points in the paint, while limiting the Huskies to 26.
“Points in the paint was much better than we’ve been dealing with,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “Washington is a similar team to us in terms of playing small, but we had a good focal point all week about trying to get the ball into the paint. I thought our bigs did a nice job of finishing. We didn’t settle for so many jump shots.”
C.J. Wilcox scored 20 points playing in his final game in his home state to lead the Huskies (13-10, 5-5), while Nigel Williams-Goss added 19 points. Wilcox moved into fifth place on Washington’s all-time scoring list with 1,749 points.
The Huskies whittled the deficit to four points on Desmond Simmons’ layup to make it 67-63 with 1:56 left. Utah halted the rally when Taylor drilled a 3-pointer and Jeremy Olsen blocked Williams-Goss to set up a clinching layup by Princeton Onwas with 59.4 seconds left.
“They came out in the second half and really outplayed us,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We had a poor defensive effort in the second half and they made us pay for it so I give them a lot of credit.”
Both teams came out on fire offensively to start the second half. Washington made nine of its first 12 shots from the field. Utah made 10 of its first 14 shots.
It meant, for a while, that the two teams traded baskets on possession after possession. That finally changed midway through the second half.
With Washington leading 51-49, Utah held the Huskies without a field goal for 5 1/2 minutes and ripped off a 13-0 run. Wright capped off the run by stealing the ball from Williams-Goss and taking it in for a dunk to give the Utes a 62-51 lead with 5:52 remaining.
“In the second half, we came down and got some stops early and our offense picked up,” Loveridge said. “That’s all we really needed in the first half. Once our offense got going, we kept doing what we needed to do on offense and got a lead from there.”
Washington missed six straight shots during the decisive run and turned the ball over five times.
“I don’t know if down the stretch we didn’t have a whole lot left to give, but that is the team that we scouted and they are a very good team,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We had trouble putting the ball in the basket at times and we turned the ball over far too many times in the second half and that hurt us.”
Turnovers were a major problem for Utah through much of the first half. The Utes coughed up the ball four times in the game’s first four minutes. Utah turned it over 10 times by halftime and Washington took full advantage – scoring 10 points off those mistakes.
It helped the Huskies carve out an early lead. Washington went up 9-2 on Simmons’ basket just five minutes into the half. The Huskies limited their ability to create a bigger hole for Utah with poor shooting. They made just 36.4 percent (12-of-33) of their shots before halftime.
Krystkowiak praised his team’s defensive resilience in the face of offensive struggles.
“This is what I told my team afterward: I learned a great deal about them because when you’re that inept offensively in the first half and struggling like we were, a lot of times that carries to the other end,” Krystkowiak said.
Utah did not stay down long. Wright took an elbow to the eye on his first basket of the game and left briefly to get stitches in the locker room. It sparked an 11-2 run for the Utes. Loveridge hit a jumper to give Utah its first lead and converted a 3-point play a possession later to put Utah in front 13-11.
Washington returned the favor with its own big run. The Huskies held Utah without a field goal for nearly four minutes and forced six turnovers. That helped Washington run off nine unanswered points – culminating in a jumper from Williams-Goss that made it 20-13 with 7:35 left before halftime.
Utah settled down and chipped away at the lead again. The Utes cut it to one, 20-19, on a pair of free throws from Dallin Bachynski. Washington rattled off three quick baskets – capped off by a Wilcox 3-pointer – to push the lead back to 27-20 with 3:49 remaining.
But the Utes had one more run in them before halftime. Taylor answered Wilcox’s 3-pointer with one of his own to cut the deficit to four. Wright then scored Utah’s last six points of the half – including a go-ahead layup with 12 seconds left – to give the Utes a 31-30 halftime lead.
Washington finally retook a 39-37 lead early in the second half on another Wilcox 3-pointer. The Huskies never led by more than two points and went ahead for the last time on a Williams-Goss layup that made it 51-49 for Washington with 11:25 remaining.