It feels good. We finally got a win under our belts. —Utah guard Justin Bibbins
SALT LAKE CITY — Whatever was said and done in practice paid off for the Utah Utes Thursday night in the Huntsman Center. They responded to head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s call earlier in the week to “fix a bunch of things that are broken in the next couple days.”
Utah snapped a four-game losing skid with a 70-62 victory over Washington. The Utes (11-7, 3-4) also put some other negative things to rest. They outrebounded a Pac-12 opponent for the first time this season and put an end to a stretch of subpar defense out on the perimeter.
Krystkowiak acknowledged that the Utes were a little bit frustrated after two lopsided losses in Los Angeles last week.
“I thought we played with an awful lot of energy for the most part,” said Krystkowiak, who added that despite some mistakes (14 turnovers) they did enough to get a win against a quality team.
“It feels good. We finally got a win under our belts,” said Justin Bibbins, who paced the effort with 20 points and 10 rebounds. “So we’re happy about that. We’ve just got to keep it going.”
Bibbins also had five assists (sharing game-high honors with Tyler Rawson) in an all-around effort that drew praise from Krystkowiak.
“I thought he was the spark and the catalyst from three,” Krystkowiak said. “He gave us a great boost, did a nice job — kind of a one-man press breaker for us on the court.”
After holding a lead for a grand total of seven minutes and 15 seconds over their previous four games, the Utes took control early against Washington. They built a 35-24 halftime advantage, holding a lead for more than 18 minutes in the first half.
Other notable numbers at the break included a 22-17 rebounding edge and 1 of 13 shooting by Washington from 3-point range. The Huskies missed 20 of 31 shots, overall, from the field.
Individually, Utah was led by Bibbins. The senior guard, who had a game-high eight points and six rebounds over the first 20 minutes, noted that the Utes were determined to play hard.
“We said this was a new start for us,” Bibbins explained. “So activity had to be high.”
The Utes took the lead for good when Bibbins hit a 3-pointer to make it 14-12 with 12:36 left in the half. The shot ushered in an 8-0 run that included a 3-pointer by Parker Van Dyke and a basket from Chris Seeley.
Utah extended its lead to 13 in the second half and withstood a late rush by Washington that lowered the margin to four points. Donnie Tillman, Bibbins and Sedrick Barefield each hit two free throws down the stretch as the Utes picked up their first win of 2018.
“It feels better,” Tillman said. “I feel like we’re ready to compete in this league. Let’s get it done.”
Tillman wound up with 14 points and eight rebounds. David Collette added 10 points and five rebounds for the Utes. The boards contributed to a 44-38 advantage by game’s end.
“We finally got back on track. It was good to be back home and play in front of our home crowd — a little easier,” Collette said. “So we’re going to get it rolling now.”
The Utes return to action Sunday against Washington State (9-9, 1-5). The Cougars dropped an 82-73 decision at Colorado on Thursday.
Krystkowiak said you have to bring energy into Pac-12 play.
“If the Utes don’t try to work harder than what we witnessed last weekend, we’re not going to win very many games,” he continued. “And even then, the hard work is not a guarantee that you’re going to win games. But it’s like the old saying: ’Without it, you don’t have a chance.’” EXTRA STUFF: The attendance was 12,378 . . . Jaylen Nowell topped Washington with 17 points . . . Jayce Johnson had eight rebounds and two steals off the bench for Utah . . . Bibbins made four 3-pointers.