SALT LAKE CITY — While snow was piling up outside the Huntsman Center, the Utah Utes were busy burying Arizona State inside the arena. The Utes snapped a four-game skid with a surprisingly lopsided 64-43 victory over the Sun Devils.
"It was an awful lot of fun," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. "We placed a lot of emphasis on our defense and a funny thing happened when we did a really good job defending them and taking away some of their options — the rim became about three times bigger than it has been recently for us and the shots were going in."
Utah made five consecutive shots from the field, including two 3-pointers, while jumping out to a 12-0 lead over the first 4:03 of play.
The Sun Devils drew no closer than nine points the rest of the way as the Utes improved to 5-14 overall and 2-5 in Pac-12 play. Their first win since a 62-60 overtime decision over Washington State capped a difficult week that included the dismissal of scoring, assists and steals leader Josh Watkins for an undisclosed violation of team rules and a 26-point home-court loss to Arizona.
"What happened this week only made us stronger," said center Jason Washburn. "We went into both games this week thinking we were going to win. It didn't affect us. It didn't hold us down."
Nothing really did on Saturday.
By game's end, the Utes made 21-of-40 shots from the field, including nine 3-pointers. They put the clamps on defensively as well. ASU was held scoreless for a span of 9:25 over the first and second halves. Utah reeled off 13 points during the stretch to take its biggest lead at 49-21. The Sun Devils, who were without scoring leader Trent Lockett (ankle injury), didn't even score in the second half until exactly eight minutes were off the clock.
"It was great. It feels good to be on the other end of the spectrum," said guard Chris Hines. "We hit a lot of shots, we played defense and it went well for us."
The Utes led 38-21 at halftime after Cedric Martin capped a late outburst with two 3-pointers, up his total to five over the first 20 minutes.
As a team, Utah was 7-of-12 from beyond the arc and 15-of-26 from the field in the decisive opening half. The Utes held a 15-9 rebounding advantage and forced eight turnovers. They collected their ninth assist — one more than their final total in Thursday's loss to Arizona — when Kareem Storey hit Dijon Farr for a layup with 3:58 to play in the half.
Storey finished with 12 points, six assists and just one turnover. Krystkowiak praised the true freshman for a doing a nice job running the show.
And he wasn't alone.
"It was all due to Kareem," said Martin, who finished with a game-high 17 points for the Utes. "He made us better today."
Hines added 14 points and Washburn contributed 10 as Utah evened its record at home to 5-5 after leading from start to finish.
"The feeling is kind of indescribable, you know what I mean. We got a lead early — something we're not always used to — and we kept it," Washburn said. "Not only did we keep it, but we kept building on it. If they would make a play, we would make another one right back at them. It was good for our confidence. It was good for our team."
Bottom line, he noted, it was a good team effort.
Krystkowiak had similar thoughts.
"It's really rewarding to be able to win a ballgame. It's important for us to move on. I thought the guys really pulled together in both games (this week)," he said while noting that they're trying to do it the right way and stick together. "We've got limited troops and I think that's allowing or forcing everybody to kind of raise the level of their game."
Regardless of the circumstances, the Utes were more than happy to prevail.
"Winning feels great," Washburn said. "No matter what the situation."
Utah returns to action next week in Los Angeles. The Utes face UCLA on Thursday and USC on Saturday.
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