The key for me was just staying confident after I had a rough shooting week last week. I was happy I was able to bounce back. —Tyler Rawson
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah climbed back to .500 in Pac-12 play with an 82-69 victory over Washington State Sunday night in the Huntsman Center. Tyler Rawson scored a game-high 22 points and Justin Bibbins added his second straight double-double with 13 points and 12 assists as the Utes improved to 12-7 overall and 4-4 in conference.
A sweep of the Washington schools followed lopsided losses at UCLA and USC.
“We talked about it when we left Southern California. Take care of business at home,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “I think it’s probably as topsy-turvy of any of the 12 teams, maybe as the steepest roller coaster with a couple of feel goods and then four not-so-feel goods and then a couple of feel goods. But it’s also in line with the rest of the league in terms of a lot of different things happening.”
Utah opened its Pac-12 slate with wins at Oregon and Oregon State. Losses at home to Arizona and Arizona State preceded the trip to Los Angeles.
“So, like we’ve always talked about, you play 18 of them and figure it out,” Krystkowiak continued. “And analyze and get ready for the Pac-12 tournament when the time comes. But, as proven in this league, anything can happen.”
Even so, Krystkowiak acknowledged it’s good to be back at .500. Utah’s next three games are on the road. The Utes are at Arizona State (15-4, 3-4) on Thursday and Arizona (16-4, 6-1) on Saturday. They visit Colorado (12-8, 4-4) the following Friday.
Utah enters the challenges ahead on a positive note. The Utes never trailed and held a lead for more than 38½ minutes.
Rawson had a hot hand. The senior forward made 8 of 10 shots from the field, including 6-of-7 accuracy from 3-point range.
“He’s an easy guy to cheer for,” said Krystkowiak, who noted that Rawson hasn’t missed a single practice and has been a warrior for the team.
The former American Fork High School and Salt Lake Community College standout credited his teammates for finding him on the court.
“I was able to convert the open shots,” Rawson said. “The key for me was just staying confident after I had a rough shooting week last week. I was happy I was able to bounce back.”
Junior guard Sedrick Barefield, who was mired in a 1-of-19 shooting slump that extended over five games, also got back on track. He scored seven points in a 15-8 run that gave Utah a double-digit lead in the first half. Gabe Bealer also helped fuel things during the decisive outburst.
Bealer and Barefield wound up with 15 and 14 points, respectively. Jayce Johnson grabbed nine rebounds.
“It was great. That's the definition and essence of a team," Krystkowiak said of the reserves, who outscored Washington State’s bench 38-23.
Utah led 42-32 at halftime. The Utes never trailed in a game that was tied three times. They pulled ahead for good on back-to-back 3-pointers by Rawson that made it 13-7.
The Utes were never seriously challenged in the second half, holding leads between six and 18 points over the final 20 minutes.
“I thought there were several defensive breakdowns,” said Washington State coach Ernie Kent. “We tried to do a couple different things to offset that, but our focus, and attention to detail on that end of the floor, was not there tonight, and they made us pay.”
The Cougars were led by 19 points from Malachi Flynn and 18 by Robert Franks.