PULLMAN, Wash. — If ever there was a time and place for the Utah basketball team to pick up a rare Pac-12 road victory, it was Sunday night at Washington State.
The Utes were facing the only team in the league with a losing overall record, a squad that was missing its leading scorer and didn’t have a single player averaging double figures. On top of that, there were barely 1,000 fans on hand (announced attendance was 2,375) to cheer on the home team at Beasley Coliseum.
So what happened?
The Utes couldn’t hold a 12-point first-half lead, shot horribly from the field (29.5 percent) and the foul line (66.7 percent), and, for the third time in four games, couldn’t execute a play with a chance to win in the final seconds.
The result was a 49-46 loss to the Cougars, dropping the Utes to 1-3 in Pac-12 play and 12-4 on the season. Meanwhile, the Cougars improved to 1-3 in league play and evened their overall record at 8-8.
Until this week, the Utes were one of the top 10 scoring teams in the nation, but they only managed 57 points Wednesday night against Washington and 46 Sunday — 24 in the first half and 22 in the second.
The lack of offense has coach Larry Krystkowiak scratching his head.
“It’s a million-dollar question right now,’’ he said. “We have to take a close look at it. Our offense is certainly behind our defense in production and it’s been the story of the last couple of games. The defense puts us in a position where we’re pretty competitive, but we’re really sluggish right now offensively.’’
Shooting is the big problem for the Utes, ironic for a team that led the nation in two-point shooting before this week. The Utes made just 4 of 20 shots in the second half when they were outscored 30-22. From 3-point range, they were 0 for 9 after halftime (2 for 14 for the game).
“We’re just not shooting the ball very well,’’ said Krystkowiak. “We’re searching for the ball to go in the rim and when you miss some easy ones, it compounds the whole stress level. I’ve got a job to do as a coach to put us in position to be more successful. But right now we’re out of sync.’’
“We just got too stagnant and were just standing around, watching one guy try to break something down,’’ said forward Jordan Loveridge. “We need to move the ball more.’’
Early on it looked like the Utes would have an easy time against the Cougars, who were playing without leading scorer DaVonte Lacy, who is out with a rib injury.
Utah went on a 13-0 run sparked by a pair of Loveridge 3-pointers from the left corner to take a 21-9 lead with 6:48 left in the half. However, the Utes could only manage three free throws the rest of the period as they missed four shots and committed four turnovers as the lead dwindled to just five points, 24-19.
“When we had an opportunity to (extend the lead), they got some momentum,’’ said Krystkowiak.
In the second half, the Utes couldn’t break away and let the Cougars hang around until they took their first lead since early in the game at 36-35 with 8:45 left.
Both teams lived at the line until Dexter Kernich-Drew made back-to-back baskets, including a 3-pointer, to put the Cougars up 46-44 with 4:15 left.
Delon Wright missed two free throws and Loveridge, Dakarai Tucker and Brandon Taylor all missed 3-pointers as the Utes stayed stuck on 44 for more than four minutes.
However, they still had a chance to win the game, as Wright scored off a steal with 59 seconds left to cut the lead to one point. Then WSU’s Royce Woolridge was called with an offensive foul, giving Utah the ball back with 27 seconds left.
The Utes took the clock below 10 seconds, but Taylor got caught in the lane and traveled, giving the ball back to the Cougars with 7.7 seconds left. Taylor then missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Loveridge led the Utes with 15 points, while Wright scored 14 and had seven rebounds. Dallin Bachynski also had seven boards for Utah.
Washington State was led by Que Johnson with 14 points and Kernich-Drew with 11. D.J. Shelton had eight points and nine rebounds.
The Utes returned home Sunday night on a charter flight and will get ready for games against USC on Thursday and UCLA on Saturday.
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