We’re going to have our hands full. They almost beat Colorado and were in the game against Arizona State for 30 minutes. They’re playing their first league game on campus with a team that mixes up zone and man and tries to keep you off-balance. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, on Washington State
PULLMAN, Wash. — When the Utah basketball team meets Washington State Sunday afternoon (5 p.m. MST) at Beasley Coliseum, the Utes won’t know which Cougar team they will be facing.
Will it be the one that looked awful in an embarrassing 60-25 loss to Arizona in its Pac-12 opener earlier this month? Or the team that took No. 15-ranked Colorado to overtime before losing 71-70 on Wednesday night?
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak expects the latter and knows his squad can’t expect a cakewalk against any team in the Pac-12 after having several of those games in the preseason.
“We’re going to have our hands full,’’ said Krystkowiak. “They almost beat Colorado and were in the game against Arizona State for 30 minutes. They’re playing their first league game on campus with a team that mixes up zone and man and tries to keep you off-balance. We need to be able to go into that environment and make key plays.’’
The Utes (12-3, 1-2) are trying to shake off a disheartening 59-57 loss to Washington Wednesday night. The Utes came back from a late nine-point deficit and had a chance to tie or win the game in the final nine seconds, but Delon Wright’s 3-pointer at the buzzer missed badly.
Wright was the only Ute who had a good game as he nearly scored half of the team’s points with 27. He also pulled down 11 rebounds. While Wright went 10 for 17 from the field, however, the rest of the team only managed 12-of-36 shooting, including a 2-for-11 night from Brandon Taylor.
“Their pressure took us out of some stuff. We kind of stood around, and we got a little complacent,’’ said Krystkowiak of the team’s first-half performance when the Utes scored just 21 points with no assists. “One thing I did learn — when your offense is that inept and to still be down by five points when you were as bad as we were offensively, sells the fact that defense can keep you in a lot of games.’’
Washington State (7-8, 0-3) is led by junior DaVonte Lacy (17.7 ppg), but he is not expected to play after suffering a rib injury against Arizona State. He also missed last week’s game against Colorado.
Junior Royce Woolridge scores 9.9 points per game and leads the team in assists at 3.1. Other likely starters include senior D.J. Shelton (7.9 ppg), who leads the team with 8.0 rebounds per game, freshman Que Johnson (9.1 ppg), junior Dexter Kernich-Drew (7.4 ppg) and 7-foot Jordan Railey (3.5 ppg).
Krystkowiak is wary of the Cougars even if Lacy doesn’t play.
“It’s almost a motivation for the rest of those guys to step up,’’ he said. “Drew is a great shooter as is Que Johnson. Those guys are real capable in the backcourt.’’
The Utes are expected to go with the same lineup as the last two games with Jordan Loveridge, Jeremy Olsen and Dakarai Tucker inside and Wright and Taylor on the guardline.
GAME NOTES: The Utes lead the all-time series with Washington State 14-3. They lost last season in Pullman, Wash., 75-65, but won in 1999, 78-66. ... The Cougars are not a great shooting team, at 42.4 percent from the field, 32.4 percent from 3-point range and 61.7 percent from the free throw line. ... WSU is outrebounding opponents 35.0 to 33.2 per game. ... This will mark the first time the two schools have played each other twice in the same season. Last year, they only met in Pullman and the year before played a single game in Salt Lake City, which Utah won 62-60.