SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said the Utes’ 78-69 win over Washington was a matter of “stick-to-itiveness” Thursday night in the Huntsman Center.
The victory snapped a three-game skid and upped Utah’s record to 15-7 overall and 4-6 in Pac-12 play.
“Our kids are working their butts off and I like where we’re going,” Krystkowiak said. “I thought we kind of got backed into the corner tonight and could have gone either way with the way the first half was going.”
The lead changed hands seven times over the opening 20 minutes and nine times by game’s end. The score was tied on eight occasions.
Krystkowiak said he didn’t know if it was a word in praising his team for its “stick-to-itiveness” against the Huskies (13-10, 5-5).
“Let’s keep playing, keep playing and we’ll get over the hump,” Krystkowiak said. “And then finally it felt good to blow it open a little bit.”
For the record, Merriam-Webster.com describes stick-to-itiveness as “the quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult or unpleasant.”
Trailing 51-49 midway through the second half, Utah reeled off 13 straight points to take the lead for good. The Utes made 10 straight defensive stops during the decisive run. Their 11-point lead, though, would eventually be whittled down to four twice in the final 2:22.
The last time, at 67-63, Utah responded with a 3-pointer by Brandon Taylor and a basket from Princeton Onwas to put the game out of reach.
After a series of losses in close games, Krystkowiak acknowledged it was time for a different outcome.
“Let’s be closers,” he said. “Have some confidence to make some plays.”
The Utes responded. They hit six free throws in the final minute to close things out.
Taylor finished with a team-high 20 points, while Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge added 19 and 16, respectively. Loveridge also grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
"We knew if we kept things up with our defensive intensity, weather the storm, we'd come out on the other side with a sunny day," Taylor said after the Utes upped their record at home this season to 15-1.
Utah led 31-30 at halftime despite turning the ball over 10 times.
“The first half was really sluggish for us, I thought,” Krystkowiak said. “Sometimes you go out on the road for a few weeks, which we did, you come home expecting some kind of magic in our building to just cure what had been ailing us.”
Krystkowiak, though, acknowledged that Washington made things difficult. Even so, he noted that holding a lead at the end of the first half said a great deal about the Utes sticking to things.
"We were battling in the first half and defensively we were solid,” Loveridge said. “We knew if we kept getting some stops and our offense picked up, we'd be fine. We did what we needed to do and got the win."
Utah wound up outrebounding Washington 34-28 and outscored the Huskies by a 40-26 margin in the paint.
“We have a lot of respect for them. They came out in the second half and really outplayed us,” said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. “We had a poor defensive effort in the second half and they made us pay for it so I give them a lot of credit.”
The Utes shot 68 percent from the field in the second half and 60 percent for the game.
“I don't know if down the stretch we didn't have a whole lot left to give — but that is the team that we scouted and they are a very good team,” Romar said. “We had trouble putting the ball in the basket at times and we turned the ball over far too many times in the second half and that hurt us.”
Former Pleasant Grove High School star C.J. Wilcox led the Huskies with 20 points.
The Utes host Washington State Saturday at 6 p.m. The Cougars (9-13, 2-8) dropped a 68-63 decision at Colorado on Wednesday.
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