That’s always been our goal, to play your best basketball at the right time of year. And it seems to be happening, so we’ve got to keep it going. —Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak
SEATTLE — There were plenty of smiles as the Utah Utes emerged from their locker room at Alaska Airlines Arena on Thursday. A 70-58 come-from-behind victory over Washington assured the program of its fifth consecutive winning season and bolstered the team’s chances of earning an NCAA Tournament berth.
“There’s rare times in life that you’re presented an opportunity to do something special and we’re kind of at that precipice right now with you’ve got to come into a road game against a team that’s penciled into the NCAA Tournament in Washington, playing really well,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “It’s not time for a lot of talk. It’s time for some action, and so that was the challenge for our guys. If you have those opportunities to do something special, you’ve got to go earn them.”
David Collette scored a game-high 22 points and Tyler Rawson added a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds as the Utes improved to 16-9 overall and 8-6 in Pac-12 play. They’re currently on a three-game winning streak.
“I think we’re playing some pretty good basketball. That’s always been our goal, to play your best basketball at the right time of year,” Krystkowiak said. “And it seems to be happening, so we’ve got to keep it going.”
The latest triumph was truly a take of two halves. Utah shot 70 percent (14 of 20) over the final 20 minutes to prevail after a shaky start.
“We were pretty terrible in the first half, honestly,” Collette said. “But we came out in the second half and took care of business.”
Utah missed its final eight shots in the first half and trailed 32-24 at the intermission. The Utes went 5:38 without a field goal and were outscored 12-1 over that span of time. After Chris Seeley made a free throw for Utah with 3:15 remaining, Washington went on to score the final 10 points of the half. The Utes shot just 27.3 percent from the field and made only 3 of 16 shots from 3-point range.
Things changed early in the second half. The Utes climbed back into contention and took the lead by hitting nine of their first 12 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers by Parker Van Dyke and one from Justin Bibbins. Collette knotted the score at 38-38 by making a pair of free throws with 15:33 to go. Van Dyke put Utah ahead with a long shot just over two minutes later.
Leading 41-38, the Utes added three baskets by Rawson and two from Collette to build a 51-39 advantage with 8:48 left to play. At one point during the 27-8 run, Washington went nearly five minutes without scoring.
Utah held on down the stretch. The Huskies (17-9, 7-6) drew no closer than six the rest of the way. The Utes, meanwhile, managed to build a pair of late 15-point leads in defeating Washington for the second time this season.
“Coach told us to take a confidence pill and that’s what we did,” Rawson said of Utah’s second-half surge. “We were taking great shots in the first half, they just weren’t falling. Then in the second half those shots we were missing in the first half were going down.”
Rawson wasn’t surprised that the Utes outscored the Huskies 46-26 in the second half.
“No. Basketball is a simple game and you’re either making or missing shots,” he said. “And we did a great job of controlling the defense, especially in the second half. We played with a lot of heart.”
Utah concludes its final Pac-12 road trip of the season Saturday night at Washington State.
“We’re taking it one game at a time, so we’ll get our prep for Washington State tomorrow,” Rawson said. “We’re excited for the challenge and finishing out our road record well when it comes to Saturday.”
Besides Collette and Rawson, the Utes had three other players score in double-figures. Van Dyke, Bibbins and Sedrick Barefield each finished with 10 points.
Washington’s lone scorer in double-digits was David Crisp with 18 points.