SALT LAKE CITY — There wasn’t much drama at the Huntsman Center Sunday night — very little as a matter of fact.
Utah’s 86-63 win over Arizona State got ugly in a hurry.
“I think it was defense. That was our focal point,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “We had about 15 things written on the board that were defensive-minded and I wrote five things on the board that were offense.”
The Utes built a 27-point lead in the first half and were never seriously challenged the rest of the way. They’re now 18-9 overall and 7-8 in Pac-12 play entering Saturday’s home finale against Colorado. When asked about Utah’s NCAA tournament chances, Krystkowiak painted a positive picture.
“I plan on winning the (Pac-12) tournament in Vegas and we don’t have to talk about any selection committee or anything like that,” he said. “So I couldn’t be more sure than that’s going to happen.”
As for taking it to Arizona State so quickly, Krystkowiak noted that surprised might be a good word — but, then again, maybe not.
“Actually I don’t know about being surprised. It’s not surprising, you know, because of the way our guys from Wednesday night the disappointment that we felt was heavy,” he said in referencing last Wednesday's 67-63 overtime loss to No. 4 Arizona. “It was heavy on our guys and we weren’t proud of the way that we played. We had an opportunity to beat one of the better teams in the country.”
Wednesday to Sunday is a long time, Krystkowiak continued, and it’s been weighing on them.
On Saturday, the team came out focused and ready to go for practice.
“So in that regard I’m not surprised they were able to play the way they played tonight,” Krystkowiak said.
In an effort to be more physical and better match the Sun Devils’ size, the Utes inserted center Dallin Bachynski and forward Princeton Onwas into the starting lineup.
“The thought was trying to impose your will,” Krystkowiak said. I was really proud of the way we got started and the guys defended.”
After giving up the opening basket of the game, the Utes reeled off 11 straight points to seize control. They blocked five of the Sun Devils’ first seven shots during the pivotal run.
Things, however, got much more lopsided as play continued.
Utah’s lead eventually swelled to 47-20 with 2:12 remaining in the first half. At one point during the stretch, Arizona State had made just four of the first 24 shots it took in the game.
The Utes led 51-26 at halftime after shooting 58.6 percent from the field and outrebounding the Sun Devils by a 27-17 margin.
Onwas had 11 points at the break for Utah, while Delon Wright and Renan Lenz each had 10. Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, who entered the game averaging 18.4 points per game, had just two on 1-of-7 shooting over the first 20 minutes.
In the second half, Utah maintained a lead of 13 points or greater. The Utes continued their defensive intensity and racked up 12 blocks by game’s end.
“I just think it was energy,” said Krystkowiak. “You don’t ever go into a game thinking about blocking shots.”
Krystkowiak added that it was real productive that the blocks were spread around — five players had deflections — and that the right guys were in position to make plays.
“I think it set a big tone because they knew they weren’t just going to be able to come into the paint and just get up shots — make some shots,” Wright said. “So I think when we blocked some of their shots it really like messed with them mentally.”
Wright finished with a game-high 22 points. The junior guard, who was 7 for 7 from the field, also had nine rebounds, six assists, three blocks and three steals. Jordan Loveridge added 18 points, while Lenz and Onwas wound up with 14 and 12, respectively.
Shaquielle McKissic topped Arizona State (19-8, 8-6) with 16 points.
“We played horrible basketball. I have no explanation. You would have to ask them,” said Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek. “We didn't make plays, we didn't defend, we couldn't make shots or free throws. It is really inexplicable. We played a dismal performance.”
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