SALT LAKE CITY — Coming off a dreadful 1-for-12 performance at Colorado last Saturday when it seemed like every shot he tried was blocked inside, Josh Watkins had to try something different Thursday night against Washington State.
Oh, Watkins still went barreling down the lane, firing up some shots under the baskets, but his two biggest shots of the night were ones that a lot of people probably didn't know Watkins had in his arsenal.
"Jiggy" sank a shot from just inside the free-throw line to tie the game and force overtime with 17 seconds left in regulation, then made almost the identical pull-up jumper from the right side at the foul line with 3.3 seconds left in overtime to give the Utes a thrilling 62-60 victory.
He explained afterward that he had worked on that all week with his teammates and coaches and it paid off in the clutch Thursday night.
"That's something we worked on," he said. "My game is going to the basket, but I thought about what we worked on all week … if a guy isn't open and somebody overplayed me, I just stopped, rose up and took the shot. It was there tonight."
Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak said Watkins had had some shots go "in and out" early in the Colorado game and felt that affected his confidence on Saturday. So an emphasis was made in practice to have Watkins look for teammates as he drove or to look for the mid-range jumper when the opponent "was loading up on him."
As for the 15-footers Watkins made to force overtime and win the game, Krystkowiak said, "He hasn't done that a whole lot, but I hope he continues to build on that."
Besides his team-high 20 points, Watkins grabbed seven rebounds and had a team-high six assists, all in the second half.
SHORTER BENCH: The Utes played with a much more shortened bench with just seven players seeing minutes Thursday. The five starters all got at least 31 minutes, led by Cedric Martin's 42 and Watkins 40 minutes. The only two reserves were Javon Dawson and Kareem Storey, who played 22 and 19 minutes, respectively.
"We had some warriors tonight," Krystkowiak said. "We had four guys play nearly 40 minutes."
The Ute coach said he decided to shorten his bench because of what players were doing in practice.
"We need to put ourselves in the best position to win," he said. "To me it's all about practice and I'm going to reward guys."
Krystkowiak said that some of the freshmen just need more experience and he said that freshmen Blake Wilkinson and Anthony Odunsi, who had played in every game so far this season, would both likely see action Saturday afternoon against Washington.
LAST TIME: The last time Washington State played at the Huntsman Center in 2006, the Cougars were undefeated and trying to become the first WSU team in 59 years to start a season 8-0.
The 2-3 Utes, who had lost three games to open the season, led from the opening tipoff and by as many in the second half in a convincing victory. Shaun Green shot 5 for 5 from 3-point range for 17 points and Luke Nevill had a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
BLACKOUT: Thursday night's game was the first "blackout game" in Utah basketball history.
The Utes came out in all black uniforms for the first time ever and most of the 8,412 fans were wearing black. To make sure no one was left out, U. ushers handed out some black T-shirts to some of the fans.
UTE NOTES: With the win, the Utes improved their lead over WSU in the series to 14-2. The Utes and Cougars won't play again this year as the Utes won't make the road trip to Washington State and Washington. … After getting just three turnovers in the first half, the Utes had three turnovers on their first three possessions of the second half when Krystkowiak called his team "complacent." The Utes had nine turnovers on the night compared to 16 for WSU. … The Utes and Cougars both had 33 rebounds. … Neither team shot well from the foul line as WSU was 10 for 22 and Utah was 5 for 10.
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