That's the Utah team that we've been waiting to see since the beginning on conference play. Utah, for the first time since Pac-12 play started, played sharply with aggression in their dominating 92-71 win over the Washington State Cougars late Thursday night, evening up their conference record at 3-3. This game was never really close, and you could tell it was likely going to get out of hand pretty early. Utah was led by the previously slumping Jordan Loveridge, who had 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor, including 5-of-9 from the three point line. Another senior who has been struggling, Brandon Taylor pitched in 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, and 5-of-7 from deep. Jakob Poeltl pitched in 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, and Lorenzo Bonam had 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Wazzu was led by Josh Hawkinson's and Que Johnson's 16 points, and Charles Callision had 12 points of his own.
One bugaboo that Utah has had all season long is turnovers. Thursday night, Utah turned the ball over 8 times, while picking up 16 assists, that's more like the Utah team we've seen the past couple of years. The offense was flowing, it was sharp, and it was decisive in where it was going with the ball. Every pass had a purpose, and players were in attack mode all night long. Utah's aggression is illustrated with their 42 points in the paint (Wazzu had 24). Jakob Poeltl, while he didn't put up massive numbers, was aggressive and taking his nice little jump hook most of the night, and not shying away from being aggressive, which was illustrated with an early driving dunk to open the game. When he wasn't taking the shot, his passing game was on point, as he hit Kyle Kuzma for some easy baskets, as well as Taylor, Loveridge and others. Utah shot the ball well in all three phases, they were 55.6% from the field, 50% from 3 (11-of-22), and 91.7% from the free throw line (11-of-12).
It was especially nice to see Loveridge and Taylor hitting their perimeter shots, as they've struggled mightily from range for much of the season, especially Taylor who has been hitting about 25% from three, where he is normally a 40+% shooter from downtown. We saw them both hitting shots we have been used to seeing them hit in the past, and which made Utah so dangerous a season ago. If those two can keep shooting like that, this team is beyond just dangerous.
Of course, Wazzu helped make this all possible, as they turned the ball over 13 times, which isn't super high, but that led to 22 points for the Utes. Wazzu for much of the night was at least a step behind, and was allowing Utah's offense to stay in rhythm, and we saw the Utes at times marching down the lane (thus the 42 paint points). Sometimes the cure for a slumping team is a bad team, and that's what Utah got tonight.
Utah's defense wasn't that good tonight, but their offense easily covered up for that. On D the Utes gave up 48% shooting, and 52.9% shooting from three. Wazzu has some offensive talent, no doubt, but so do other teams in the league, as we've seen.
All-in-all, a confidence booster for the Utes, as they've been struggling to put the ball in the basket for much of conference play, outside of the last 10 minutes against Oregon State. Utah will need to build on this game as they go to Seattle to play Washington on Sunday. Washington, while very young, is very talented and athletic. Utah is going to have to take this same level of focus and execution up to Seattle, and play a little bit better defense, if they want to swept the road trip. But for tonight, it was a good win against a bad team, and that's something to build off of going forward.