We all knew this was going to be a tough season for the Utah Running Utes, and Thursday night perfectly captured the ups and downs in store for this team as well as the tall task ahead for Craig Smith. On paper, Washington should have been a win for the Utes. Despite the Utes leading in the second half by as many as 14 points, the Washington Huskies managed to play some thought defense (as they had 13 steals on the night) and forced 19 turnovers to beat the Utes 74-68 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center Thursday night. The Utes now need to regroup as they host the Washington State Cougars tonight at 4 pm MT on the PAC 12 Network. The Utes enter the game with an 8-7 record overall and 1-4 in conference play. The Utes are also on a three-game losing streak. Washington State enters this contest on a two-game losing streak (with a game against Washington postponed). Washington State is 8-6 overall with a 1-2 record in conference play. Washington State lost Thursday night at Colorado 83-78 after leading by one at the half. The Utes will need to limit their turnovers significantly if they stand any chance of closing out games. Turnovers have plagued the Utes in their last three games, and Craig Smith’s squad could use a confidence boost by getting a home win tonight. The Utes are still without Boyston Holt with a season-ending injury but had Dusan Mohorcic back last game after a lengthy injury. Get after them, Utes, and let’s beat the Cougars.
16:00- Biggest news right away is Branden Carlson unable to play (tonight and potentially longer) due to appendicitis. Carlson has had some really bad luck after being out with an ankle injury and then Covid; Lahat Thioune getting the start in his place. Both teams coming out firing in the first few minutes. The Utes trail the Cougars 9-8 but the biggest concern is that Washington State has gone 3-4 from 3 point range and they are getting some really open looks and are taking advantage. The Utes have to tighten up their defense. The best news though is 0 turnovers for the Utes after 4 minutes so that’s definitely a plus.
12:00- Much better defense from the Utes. The Cougars had a 5 point lead before the Utes defense stepped it up and went on a run of their own and the Utes now lead 15-13. Lahat Thioune making the most of his start and leads the Utes with 4 points; great to see him stepping up early in the game.
8:00- The Utes were beginning to build a lead and led by 5 at one point but the Cougars 3 point shooting has allowed them to build a 22-18 lead. The Cougars are shooting 5-8 from 3 point range (62.5%) so we desperately need that to stop. One encouraging sign has been free-throw shooting early for the Utes, they shot under 70% the last game and now are shooting 100% as they have gone 5-5 from the free-throw line.
2:00- A frustrating couple of minutes as Utah battled back to tie the game at 28 before Washington State went on a 7-0 run and the Cougars lead 35-28. Craig Smith is about to lose it as the Utes have far too often given up easy buckets right down the lane from close range. Washington State is shooting 60.9% from the field which if it continues will be nearly impossible for the Utes to win this game.
0:00- Yikes that was a brutal end to the first half. The Cougars go on a 12-2 run to end the first half and lead 40-30 at the break. The biggest stat line of the half is that the Cougars have shot a ridiculous 61.5% from the field and 63.6% from 3 point range; any team would struggle to win giving up those numbers. The Cougars knocked down some open looks early and have managed to hit some tough contested shots down the stretch after the confidence boost early. Again the one bright spot for the Utes is they have gone 11-11 from the free-throw line. The Utes have turned the ball over 7 times and are shooting 45% from the field and only 20% from 3 point range. We definitely need a heavy dose of defense along with Michael Jordan’s special water from Space Jam to get ourselves back into the game in the second half. Get after it Utes!
19:13- The second half started well defensively with two consecutive steals on the first and second possessions of the Cougars. Utah came away with a 3-pointer after the second steal causing the Cougs to take an early timeout.
15:49- Utah’s first 5 shots of the half were all 3-pointers, knowing they need to make up a deficit, but they are only 1-5 from 3-point range so far in the half (2-10 overall). The Utes finally missed their first free throw of the game after 12 straight. WSU has looked a little sloppy after the half and Utah’s defense has looked better but unfortunately, the Utes haven’t been able to capitalize due to all of the missed threes. 45-34 WSU
11:52- The Utes have continued to draw fouls well, both on offense and defense. Unfortunately, WSU continues to hit threes at will, shooting 52.6% (10/19) from behind the arc. The Cougars built momentum building a 19-point lead at one point but the Utes rallied a bit to get it down to just a 14-point deficit.
7:33- Goch steals an inbound play that leads to a quick 3 points. Utah has rallied well with a 12-4 run making some really good defensive rebounds. They were able to cut the lead to just a 9-point deficit at one point. The Utes are still forcing some shots but there has been visible energy from Smith and the sideline.
4:21- Utah has been trying to get the Cougars lost in transition to mixed results. Stefanovic caught a hand to the face and went down. He hasn’t returned yet. The momentum felt like it was with Utah for a while as the Cougars were struggling to make shots but the Cougs made a few 3-pointers in a row and built their back up. 68-55 WSU
Final: 77-61 WSU
The Cougars completed their first win at Utah since 1946. The Utes stayed with them early but didn’t let things slip away late in the first half. The Utes showed life in the second half but never got any flow to make any sustainable comeback on WSU. The Cougars played well with 5 different players scoring double-digit points.
Utah had an inexplicable persistence shooting threes, despite no one on the team demonstrating an ability to hit those shots tonight. The Utes finished having shot 22.7% (5-22) from 3-point range. 17 of those 22 3-pointers came in the second half. The biggest positive for the Utes include shooting 20-24 in free throw attempts. This is a massive improvement over the previous game in which the Utes shot only 30-49 over their previous three games. Another positive is the Utes showed a strong defensive adjustment in the second half. At halftime, the Cougars were shooting 61.5% from the field and 63.6% from 3 point range. By the end of the game, those numbers were 44.8% and 40.0% respectively.
A lot of room for improvement before the Utes head to Arizona next week.
Next Up: Thursday 1/13 @ Arizona State 7pm MT on the Pac-12 Network