SALT LAKE CITY — For a second straight game, Rylan Jones made plays all over the court for Utah in critical moments. Washington State could do nothing to stop it from happening on Saturday.
Jones scored 24 points, one shy of his career-high, to lead the Utes to a 76-64 victory over the Cougars. The freshman guard helped Utah win its second straight game by doing a little bit of everything on offense.
Jones drove the lane and got to the free-throw line. He made timely 3-pointers and layups. He also dished highlight-reel assists to teammates.
It left the Cougars flat-footed on defense as the game progressed. His performance also left teammates in awe after the game.
“He’s one of the best there is,” Utah forward Mikael Jantunen said. “Sometimes, you’ll stop and watch too, which is probably not a good thing to say. But he’s a great player.”
Jantunen scored 16 points off the bench to help power the offense. Branden Carlson added 12 points and Timmy Allen chipped in 11 for the Utes
Utah shot 63% from the field to win its 12th straight game in the series with Washington State.
Much of that efficient shooting came from attacking the rim. Utah scored 40 points in the paint and outrebounded Washington State 30-21.
“They’re pretty big and pretty good inside,” Cougars coach Kyle Smith said. “We were playing with foul trouble and they just kept trying to go inside.”
Isaac Bonton scored 21 points to lead Washington State. The Cougars shot 46% from the field, but allowed Utah to score 19 points off 13 turnovers.
“When everybody’s on the same page with our defense, it’s hard to do a lot of stuff in there,” Jantunen said.
The Cougars opened up the first half by making six of their first seven shots and sprinted out to a 15-6 lead. Bonton and Jervae Robinson each scored a pair of baskets to fuel the surge. On the other end, Washington State forced Utah to commit seven turnovers over the first 8 ½ minutes.
Once the Utes got things figured out on offense, it did not take long for them to take control of the game. Utah ended the first half on an 18-2 run and took a 37-25 lead into the locker room.
Allen converted a 3-point play to give the Utes their first lead at 24-23 with 4:26 remaining in the first half. Carlson and Jantunen then combined to score Utah’s final 13 points of the half. Each player made a pair of baskets over the final three minutes of the half.
“Our coaches told us, ‘We got to get the ball inside. It’s open,’ ” Carlson said. “We just looked for each other.”
Washington State heated up from the perimeter early in the second half, making four 3-pointers over the first six minutes. Bonton made the final one in that stretch to help the Cougars regain a 43-42 lead.
Utah surged back in front behind back-to-back layups from Jantunen and Both Gach. It sparked a 9-0 run that put the Utes back up 51-43 with 11:12 remaining.
Jones kept the Cougars from closing the gap again. He scored four straight baskets and set up another to extend Utah’s lead to 71-60 with 3:35 to go.
“He dominated the end of the game,” Smith said. “If we do a better job on him, maybe we get an opportunity to get it down to one possession and make something happen.”
Utah has allowed just 19 free-throw attempts over its last two games. The Utes have totaled 51 attempts over the same stretch. Washington State attempted only five free throws – all over the final five minutes.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak attributed the success in keeping opponents off the line to improvement on defensive fundamentals.
“We’ve had a little bit of a renewed sense of that with our guys where they’re getting down and taking some pride and staying between the basket and their guy so we don’t have to help as much and don’t have as many breakdowns,” Krystkowiak said.
Beating Washington State in Salt Lake City is a decades-long habit for Utah. The Utes have not lost to the Cougars at home since 1946. They have won 18 straight games in the Beehive State over Washington State since that time.
THE BIG PICTURE
Washington State: The Cougars camped out on the perimeter offensively and it proved costly when those outside shots didn’t fall. Washington State did not attempt its first free throw until 4:40 remained in the second half.
Utah: Once again, the Utes found a winning formula from attacking the rim and cleaning the glass. Utah dominated around the basket and it helped the Utes recover from a sluggish start.
Washington State hosts Arizona State on Wednesday.