After a five game winning streak to get back in the thick of the Pac-12 race, the Runnin’ Utes (17-7, 6-5) are on a two game skid after dropping a pair of tough games in Oregon. On Wednesday, Utah returns home to the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center where they have lost only once this season to take on the Washington Huskies. At 6-5 in Pac-12 play, Utah currently sits 5th in conference, making this week’s games against Washington and Washington State must wins to have any hope of crawling back into the conference race.
Last time Utah and Washington met on the court, Washington was riding high and in first place in the Pac-12. Utah was able to pull off the upset, leaving Seattle with a 90-85 win in overtime. Since Utah’s win in Seattle, the young Huskies have struggled to continue their early season momentum, going 2-2 in that stretch and dropping to 4th in the Pac-12 with a 7-4 conference record. Joe Lunardi currently has them as a 10 seed in his latest bracketology in comparison to Utah as a 7 seed. Washington will have plenty to play for on Wednesday, as they try to avenge the earlier loss and fight for a spot in the tournament.
Washington has had a history of fading down the stretch in recent years and with a young roster full of freshman there is a question of whether they will hit a wall in the final weeks of the season. Washington’s freshmen account for 64.1% of the Huskies scoring, so the team will live and die on the performances of freshman Dejounte Murray, Marquese Chriss, David Crisp and others. The Huskies do have Pac-12 scoring leader, senior Andrew Andrews to lean on, leading the way in Pac-12 scoring averaging 20.6 points per game.
Once again this game will be a challenge to Utah because of Washington’s athletic guards. Last time the two schools met, Utah was able to hold Andrews to 17 points before he fouled out in overtime, and also held Murray to just eight points on 4-16 shooting. Utah will need a similar defensive effort against those two players on Wednesday. Murray is averaging 21 points per game over the last three outings, including a 34 point performance last week against Arizona State, breaking a Washington freshman record.
One of the main reasons Utah was able to escape with a win last time, is Utah was aggressive on the boards with both Poeltl and Kuzma pulling down 10 rebounds each. Poeltl also caused Washington all kinds of problems with a 29 point effort that kick started his run of four straight 20 point performances. Utah will again need to be aggressive on the boards and limit Washington’s chances for second chances and put backs.
Washington is 3-2 on the road this season but is definitely a better home team. Of Washington’s three road wins, two of them came by only a combined eight points and their two losses by a combined 42 points. Washington has a tendency to play close games at both home and away however, with seven of their 11 Pac-12 games being decided by five points or less.
The home court advantage could help Utah especially with a young Washington team. Whether or not the altitude difference has an impact is debatable, but if it does, many of these Washington freshmen will be playing in Salt Lake for the first time. Utah is 5-2 all time when facing the Huskies in Salt Lake, Washington’s last win coming in 2012. Utah holds a 10-9 all time series lead and will look to extend that on Wednesday night when the Huskies visit.
The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 7pm MT. Bill Riley will have the call on ESPN700.