SEATTLE — Hours before Wednesday’s late-night 59-57 loss at Washington, the Utah Utes took the court at Alaska Airlines Arena for a shootaround.
It was their first trip back to the facility since Jan. 19, 2013, when they picked up their first and only Pac-12 road win. They shot 60.4 percent from the field in a 74-65 victory over the Huskies.
Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge were the top returning contributors — netting 19 and 17 points, respectively, in the upset.
Coming back to Seattle, Taylor noted, felt good.
“But that’s a game that happened a year ago,” he said. “So I’ve just got to stay consistent, bring in the same attitude and be more aggressive, be more assertive, be more of an impact player.”
Taylor, who had a career-high 23 points in last Saturday’s 80-69 win over Oregon State, wasn’t much for reminiscing about Utah’s return to Washington — noting that both teams are improved from a year ago.
“It’s the same arena but two different teams going at it,” Loveridge added.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak also dismissed the significance of last year’s win on Washington’s floor.
“That was in the past and this is definitely about the present for us,” he said. “It was a good game for us, but you have you have a pretty short memory.”
The slate is kind of clean, Krystkowiak continued, as he praised the confidence of his team. At 12-3 overall (1-2 in Pac-12), Utah is off to its best start since 1997-98.
In last year’s game in Seattle, Krystkowiak said that the offense really saved the Utes’ bacon. They hit some difficult shots that were a little demoralizing to the Huskies and took a little steam out of their attack.
Defense, especially in transition, is another variable that Krystkowiak considered critical to success at Washington. Before Utah’s Pac-12 road opener, he emphasized the importance of tightening things up and not having a glaring deficiency.
“We’ll play hard. We’ll play smart,” Taylor said. “We’ll play our game and hopefully come out victorious.”
Unfortunately for the Utes, it didn’t start off well. The Pac-12 leaders in field goal percentage (53.2 percent) missed their first 10 shots from the field against the Huskies and fell into an 8-0 deficit.
Loveridge and Dallin Bachynski eventually put Utah on the board with free throws, but the initial shot from the field didn’t come until Delon Wright made a layup with 12:33 remaining in the first half.
It came in the midst of a 9-0 burst that put the Utes ahead. The Huskies, though, responded with a run of their own and went on to hold a 26-21 advantage at halftime.
Utah, however, quickly climbed back into contention. The Utes opened the second half with eight straight points to take a 29-26 lead. They later rallied from five points down to regain a 43-41 edge on a basket by Loveridge with exactly nine minutes to go.
Just 16 seconds later, Washington pulled back in front when Andrew Andrews converted a three-point play. It sparked a 7-0 burst by the Huskies that put them ahead for good.
The Utes did make things dramatic, however, down the stretch. They pulled to within 50-48 at one point and then 59-57 with 15 seconds remaining on a 3-pointer by Wright.
The junior, who finished with a game-high 27 points, attempted a game-winner but it missed the mark.
Utah’s ongoing bid to improve on its 1-18 Pac-12 road record since joining the conference in 2011-12 continues Sunday at Washington State. Taylor said it’s full-steam ahead for the Utes.
“We’re not going to live in the past or anything like that. So we’ll move on to the next play and move on to the next game,” he noted. “It’s like a new year, a new season.”
Taylor explained that it’s a game-at-a-time mentality. Loveridge agreed.
“Every game we’ve got to think our ultimate goal is to make the NCAA tournament,” he said. “So every game we just need a win so we can get closer to that.”
And there’s more to it, much more.
“We want to be successful in our league and in order to do so we’ve got to win some road games,” Krystkowiak said. “I haven’t thought twice about the last two years and what’s gone on in the league. Again, it’s right here.”
As for the past shortcomings on the road in conference play, Krystkowiak pointed out that most of this year’s squad didn’t experience any of those.
“It wouldn’t be fair to think that has anything to do with our team right now,” he said, explaining that the focus Wednesday was all about trying to beat the Huskies.
“That’s our goal,” Krystkowiak concluded.
As for victories, he said those can all be added up when the season is over.
EXTRA STUFF: Former Pleasant Grove High star C.J. Wilcox had 14 points for Washington. ... Andrew Andrews led the Huskies with 19. ... Loveridge finished with 10 points and seven rebounds for the Utes.
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