Utah Utes basketball: Utes suffer worst-ever Huntsman Center loss
SALT LAKE CITY — It didn't take long for Utah to lose its seventh straight game — a 81-50 decision to Cal State Fullerton Wednesday night.
This one was over quickly, as in less than three minutes.
That's how long it took for the visiting Titans to take a 14-0 lead. They connected on their first four shots from the field — all from 3-point range — and added a pair of free throws to put the Utes in a deep hole.
So deep, as it turned out, that they never drew closer than seven points the rest of the way and went on to suffer their most lopsided loss ever in the Huntsman Center.
"We need to have a defensive focus from the beginning," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. "We didn't really start getting energized until we made some baskets."
The Utes missed their first four shots and didn't score until Chris Hines made a 3-pointer with 16:52 to go in the half. Although they eventually closed the gap to 26-19, it proved to be as close as the score would get the rest of the way.
"The start of the game was key for us. That gave us confidence that we could score," said Titans coach Bob Burton. "Guys will play better defense when they are scoring the ball."
Cal State Fullerton led 43-26 at halftime after shooting 62.5 percent from the field. The Titans maintained a double-digit advantage throughout the second half — limiting the Utes to 35.3 percent shooting for the game.
"From the opening tip we have to fight because there's been too many 9-0 leads and 14-0 leads — about the time we catch our breath we get into the game," Krsytkowiak said. "So it's going to be on our coaching staff now to make sure our guys are ready, the five guys that are ready to play. Because we can't give teams a head start like that."
The Utes, he added, need to learn the value of every possession and not let mistakes multiply.
"That's kind of been a big problem for us all season. We start in these big holes and we've got to battle back," said junior center Jason Washburn. "That's hard to do, especially every game. We can't keep starting that way. We've got to come out with more energy and fire."
Washburn noted that he's been branded as the guy to bring such passion to floor and took it upon himself for not making it happen.
Washburn also took responsibility for the massive rebounding disparity. The Utes were outboarded by a 45-18 margin. Washburn pulled down a team-high seven.
"I'm the head of the rebounding snake, you know what I mean. I've got to grab more," Washburn said. "Seven is just not enough. So that falls on me."
Utah played without scoring and assists leader Josh "Jiggy" Watkins. Earlier in the week, Krystkowiak suspended the senior guard indefinitely for "conduct detrimental to the team."
Kareem Storey started in his place and finished with 10 points and six assists.
"He tries awfully hard. He's got a big heart and competes," Krystkowiak said while noting that the true freshman still has a lot to learn. "I always value his effort."
Krystkowiak declined to comment specifically on Watkins' absence, but Washburn said the Utes just need to keep playing until he returns.
"Jiggy's a big part of our team, but Jig's not our team," Washburn explained. "Jig's not everything."
Utah (1-7) returns to action Saturday at home against BYU.
"It's not going to get any easier, but forget who we're playing. It still comes down to what we've talked about with finding a way for us to come out and compete," Krystkowiak said. "Whether it's Adams State or BYU or the Utah Jazz, it's got to be more important from the get-go for us to lay our heart and soul into a game and be competitive on every possession."
GAME NOTES: The attendance was 7,671. ... Hines led the Utes with 12 points. ... Cal State Fullerton's Kwame Vaughn topped all scorers with 18. Teammate D.J. Seeley added 17.
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