Despite losing their leading rebounder and best interior defender, the No. 12-ranked Runnin' Utes continued their winning ways at home, routing the visiting Cougars of Washington State 86-64. Starting guards Delon Wright and Brandon Taylor stepped up in the absence of center Jakob Poeltl, combining for 35 points, six rebounds, 15 assists, and five steals to lead Utah to its fifth Pac-12 victory.
"I thought we took the fight to them as opposed to Arizona taking the fight to us," Taylor said.
Poeltl was scratched from the game lineup due to an ankle injury, but that wasn't the only contributor to the early heartburn for Utah fans. The game began with two free throws and possession for the Cougars, no jump ball, due to a technical foul assessed against freshman forward Brekkott Chapman for dunking in pre-game warmups. Washington State's Josh Hawkinson made both free throws, and nailed a jumper on the possession to give Wazzu the early 4-0 lead.
Chris Reyes and Wright both made jumpers to tie the game up, but it wasn't until the 15:03 mark in the first half that Utah took the lead for good. Taylor cleared a defensive rebound, pushed the ball up court, and dropped in a soft pull-up 12-footer in transition. After that, it was all Runnin' Utes until a small WSU run in the second half.
At about 2:13 before the half, Wright stepped in front of a clearing pass to the top of the key and raced the length of the court for an easy dunk:
At the 10:54 mark in the second period, Brett Boese nailed his third 3-pointer, the Cougars third in a row, to cut the Utah lead to just 10, 62-52. But that would be as close as Washington State would get the rest of the game, as the Runnin' Utes went on a 18-8 run to grow the lead to 20.
Taylor led all scorers with 18 points, and Wright (17 points) led all players in assists with eight. Together, the two guards had more assists than Washington State (14) had as a team. Junior forward Jordan Loveridge contributed 14 points and six assists.
Poeltl's absence wasn't entirely covered up, however, as Utah was out-rebounded for the second consecutive game. Washington State pulled down 35 caroms to Utah's 30, including an 8-6 advantage on the offensive glass. Utah bigs Dallin Bachynski and Brekkott Chapman combined for one rebound, although third string center Jeremy Olsen played 14 minutes and notched eight points and five rebounds.
"It's the hardest thing to coach," said Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak. "We seek players out in the recruiting period who just go get a rebound. It is a skill to be able to rebound outside of your area. Some 'hit and git,' they look for contact and then release to get the ball. A lot of times Saturday we were rotating in a pick-and-roll situation, and that really threw off our box outs. It's desire."
Hawkinson and center Jordan Railey combined for 18 rebounds to lead the Cougars rebounding surge. Utah had a difficult time pushing the 7-foot, 245-pound Railey out from under the basket on either end.
Washington State was led by DaVonté Lacy, who was a member of Krystkowiak's Pac-12 All Stars that toured China over the summer. Lacy poured in 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, 3-of-5 from behind the 3-point line.
"He's as solid a kid as I've come around," Krystkowiak said of Lacy. "He's really mature and we spent a lot of time off the court together in China. He stands for a lot of things we talk about here in our program. He's very outgoing and was a team favorite. He represents his school and our conference extremely well. He took a leadership role with the club and doesn't have an ounce of selfishness. He has a lot of pride and is having a great season. He is one of the top scorers in the league and is a handful to play against."
Utah improves to 15-3 overall, 5-1 in conference play (currently leading the league), while Wazzu falls to 9-9, 3-3. Next up, the Utes host the Washington Huskies (13-4, 2-3) on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. MT.