SALT LAKE CITY — Brandon Taylor feels like he is in a good spot again as a basketball player.
It hasn’t always been the case for the sophomore guard. His two seasons with Utah have been defined by alternating flashes of dominance and maddening slumps. Such a roller coaster is becoming a thing of the past as Taylor is becoming the third reliable scoring option that the Utes have needed all season.
Taylor scored 16 points to lead Utah to an 81-63 victory over Washington State on Saturday night. It is the third consecutive game Taylor has led the Utes in scoring and he is averaging 17.7 points per game in those contests.
“I’m just having fun with the game again,” Taylor said. “I’m just getting back to having fun and not thinking too much. Just freeing my mind up and getting back to what I do — just playing basketball. When you think too much, that’s when the game gets difficult.”
Jordan Loveridge chipped in 13 points and Delon Wright added 11 to go with nine assists for Utah. Six different players scored in double figures for the Utes (16-7, 5-6 Pac-12) who beat the Cougars in their home arena for the 12th consecutive time.
Utah has not lost a home game to Washington State since the two teams played for the first time in 1946.
DaVonte Lacy scored 22 points for the Cougars (9-14, 2-9) and D.J. Shelton added 19 points and 10 rebounds. It wasn’t enough keep Washington State from losing for the ninth time in its last 12 games.
“Utah deserves a lot of the credit,” Cougars coach Ken Bone said. “They played a very good game. I love their energy and toughness on the defensive end. On the offensive end, they executed and hit threes. They were very hard to stop on the defensive end. They scored very well against us tonight.”
Utah dominated around the basket and in transition. The Utes outscored Washington State 42-18 in the paint, had a 10-0 edge in fast break points and shot 56.7 percent from the floor.
Getting to the basket has been a point of emphasis for Utah after the Utes got burned on the glass repeatedly during three straight losses to Arizona State, Arizona and Colorado. Their willingness to attack made a huge difference against Washington State.
“That’s the key,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “It helps you at the foul line. I like our ability to shoot the three, but we’ve got to get multi-dimensional instead of just constantly relying on the three. That’s not a good formula.”
Washington State started cold on offense and never quite found a rhythm in the first half. The Cougars missed eight of their first nine shots from the field. They shot just 34.5 percent (10 of 29) from the field and 16.7 percent (2 of 12) from distance before halftime.
Utah took advantage, claiming a 9-3 lead. Wright converted a three-point play and a layup to fuel the scoring. Shelton brought the Cougars back within striking distance after making three baskets and assisting a layup by Lacy over four straight possessions to cut Utah’s lead to 13-12.
That’s as close as Washington State could get. The Utes scored 10 unanswered points — culminating in an acrobatic layup from Princeton Onwas — to take a 23-12 lead. Utah led by as much as 20 points before halftime. The Utes went ahead 42-22 when Taylor drove for a layup with 1:12 left in the half.
“We know we can shoot threes, but getting to the basket and actually attacking — we know that’s going to open the floor up,” Taylor said. “When they start sucking in on the drivers, you know it’s going to open it up for the shooters. Just attacking the basket is going to open up the game and make the game easier for us.”
Washington State closed the gap again after halftime. The Cougars cut Utah’s lead to ten after Lacy drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 48-38. Loveridge cut to the hoop for a layup to stop the run and then he and Taylor each drained a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to put Utah back ahead 56-40 with 11:54 remaining.
The Cougars had one more run left in them. Lacy hit another 3-pointer and a pair of 3-pointers to spark a 10-3 spurt for Washington State. When Ike Iroegbu capped the run with a 3-pointer, the Cougars trailed 59-50 with 8:53 left.
Utah slammed the door on comeback efforts after Taylor drilled a 3-pointer to spark a decisive 12-4 run. Utah capped the run with a slam dunk from Onwas and a layup from Olsen on back-to-back possessions to take a 72-54 lead with 4:39 remaining in the game.
The next goal for Utah is finally getting a breakthrough victory against a Pac-12 opponent on the road. The first chance for the Utes comes against USC on Thursday.
“Even though we won the last game (against USC) we haven’t got a road win,” Onwas said. “It’s a huge game.”