PULLMAN, Wash. — So much for being the aggressor.
Utah’s plan to deliver the first punch at Washington State failed to materialize as the Cougars delivered some early haymakers in the form of shots beyond the arc. They opened the game by making four of them — two contested — and never trailed en route to a 75-65 victory over the Utes.
“That had a lot to do with it. The rim was huge for them,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “They weren’t just little body punches.”
Even so, Krystkowiak noted that the Utes weathered it fairly well. What really bothered him were the 28 points his team gave up on miscues.
“We were just kicking ourselves in the foot with our turnovers that weren’t really forced,” he said. “We were having a hard time passing and catching and that just puts too much pressure on your defense.”
Utah wound up turning the ball over 17 times in falling to 8-9 overall and 0-5 in Pac-12 play. Washington State snapped a three-game skid and improved to 10-7 and 1-3.
“We’ve got to stop playing from behind. We’ve just got to come out stronger. We’re not coming out strong at all,” said freshman Brandon Taylor, who led the Utes with 13 points off the bench. “It’s like we’ve got to wait until we’re down 8-10 points before we start playing hard. We can’t do that in this league. We’ve got to come out punching.”
Taylor acknowledged that Washington State’s barrage of 3-pointers took his team by surprise. The Cougars wound up making 11 by game’s end.
“This is the game of basketball. That’s how it goes. You have some 'on nights' and you have some 'off nights,'” Taylor said. “They had an on night tonight and we just couldn’t adjust to it.”
Mike Ladd paced the Washington State effort with five 3-pointers and a game-high 22 points. The Cougars shot 50 percent from the field in handing the Utes their fifth consecutive loss.
“Whether they surprise or not we have to adjust quicker,” said Utah center Jason Washburn. “We have to do better. It’s the same story. We’ve just got to do better.”
Washburn and others are growing weary of discussing the slow starts and the fact that the Utes have yet to win a Pac-12 game on the road.
“We’re just beating a dead horse,” he said. “Words are useless now. Basketball has to be played by basketball players.”
Washington State’s long-distance approach paid off quickly. DaVonte Lacy got things started by hitting two to give the Cougars a 6-0 advantage. Mike Ladd later added a pair of his own to increase leads to 9-1 and 12-5.
Utah’s first score came on a free throw by Cedric Martin with 17:47 remaining in the half. Washburn had the first shot from the field, making a layup 40 seconds later. Once on track, the Utes eventually closed the gap to 12-11 thanks to a run featuring scores by Justin Seymour, Washburn and Jarred DuBois.
Despite being held scoreless for more then five minutes, though, Washington State remained in front. The Cougars ended their drought by moving inside the arc. Royce Woolridge netted an old-fashioned three-point play before adding a jumper to make it 17-11.
Utah, meanwhile, had a lengthy dry spell of its own. A dunk by Washburn eventually put an end to it after more than four-and-a-half minutes.
It failed, however, to sway any momentum as Washington State responded with a 17-9 burst that included three more 3-pointers. Two free throws by Lacy gave the Cougars their biggest lead of the half at 34-22 with 1:23 to go.
Washington State held a 34-26 edge at the break. The Cougars forced eight turnovers and were 7 of 11 from 3-point range. Ladd led the way by connecting on 4 of 5.
The Utes used nine players in attempting to turn the tide. Taylor provided a spark off the bench. Another bright spot was the defense on Washington State star forward Brock Motum. The senior was held scoreless in the first half. He missed four shots and turned the ball over four times.
Motum managed to get on the board early in the second half, hitting a layup with 17:54 remaining to give the Cougars another double-digit lead at 37-26. He later made a pivotal 3-pointer and finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Utes wound up trailing by as many as 16 points in the second half before climbing back into contention with a 10-0 run. Seymour fueled the outburst with six points. Washburn added four as they closed the gap to 47-41 with just under 10 minutes left to play.
Utah, though, drew no closer down the stretch. Washington State, in fact, took its biggest lead — 17 points — after the Utes’ comeback bid.
“If we keep on trying to play from behind then things are just going to stay the same,” Seymour said.
Utah gets another opportunity to reverse the losing trend Saturday in Seattle.
“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and we’ve got to get ready for Washington,” Washburn said. “We’re not going to give up. We know we’re better than this. We know we’re better than our record.”
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