Ever since dropping four straight, concluding with a home loss to the Cougs, this team has done everything possible to save the season. First UW steadied things with two home wins against the Oregon schools, then managed to secure a one-point road win over Colorado via a last second Andrew Andrews jumper.
UW was forced to scratch and claw for each win. Scoring and turnovers have continued to be massive issues, and the knee injury to Jernard Jarreau has forced Romar to play either a six or seven man rotation.
Washington's margin for error is extremely small, and now they will face the second best team in the conference in a very hostile road environment.
Likely Starting Five: G Brandon Taylor (Jr., 5-10, 167), G Delon Wright (Sr., 6-5, 190), F Jordan Loveridge (Jr., 6-6, 222), F Chris Reyes (So., 6-7, 230), C Dallin Bachynski (Jr., 7-0, 250).
Key Bench Players: C Jakob Poetl (Fr., 7-0, 235), G Dakarai Tucker (Jr., 6-5, 195), F Brekkott Chapman (Fr., 6-8, 200), G Isaiah Wright (Fr., 6-2, 177).
The biggest question is whether or not freshman center Jakob Poetl will play. He missed the victory over WSU with an ankle injury, and the Utah game notes list Bachynski as the starter, but Poetl has not been ruled out.
If Poetl is healthy enough to play and start, UW's extremely thin front court will face a seven-foot starting center and a seven-foot center off the bench in Bachynski.
Poetl averages 9.1 points (via absurd 65% shooting), 7.9 rebounds (team-high), and 2.1 blocks.
However, if Poetl is out or is forced to play severely reduced minutes off the bench, Bachynski will start. The junior big man averages a far less threatening 3.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in only 12 minutes.
The other starter in the front court, Chris Reyes, is also more of a role player. In 16 minutes he has scored 4.6 points and 4.3 rebounds.
Jordan Loveridge has taken a small step back from the production of last year, though it likely didn't help to miss a big chunk of the middle of the season to injury. In 24 minutes he scores 11.4 points and 3.9 rebounds. Over the past four games, he has shot 0-6, 3-8, 3-6, and 3-11 from the field, so it's fair to say he is struggling to score efficiently as of late.
Delon Wright is simply scary good. He leads the team in playing 31.8 minutes, contributing 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.9 assists, and 2.3 steals. Controlling him is difficult because he does not rely on his own scoring to take over a game. He scores efficiently, dishes more assists than all but a handful of Pac-12 guards, and he is a persistently irritating on-ball defender.
Brandon Taylor has developed into a really nice complimentary guard. Wright runs the show, but Taylor still averages over 10 points on 47% shooting from the field and 45% shooting from three-point land, and 88% from the charity stripe. He also dishes 3.3 assists to only 1.2 turnovers. On the plus side, both NWG and Andrews have significant size advantages over the 5-10, 167-pounder.
Avoiding Poetl would be a huge advantage for the Huskies, who already struggle to score at an acceptable rate when the opposing defense doesn't boast an athletic seven-foot shot blocker. Unfortunately, it seems likely that he will at least play 15-20 minutes off the bench.
Defensively, Washington's zone has continued to improve as the season has gone one, but Utah is well constructed to beat it.
A star in Wright to run the offense, a legitimate low-post presence to keep Upshaw from wandering around blocking every shot in sight, and two highly efficient three point threats in Taylor and Loveridge to bust the zone if it starts to get lazy.
Utah is simply a very well constructed team with few obvious flaws, and this year it has consistently played in front of a packed house.
I do believe that Washington's defense will force Utah into some ugly offensive stretches, but it seems likely that near-constant turnover issues, a lack of outside shooting, and the razor-thin rotation will prevent the Huskies from scoring enough to secure a victory.
To win, UW will need an appearance from Good Andrews (that's the one that hit the game winner), some quality play from designated bench shooter Donaven Dorsey, and a total lack of foul trouble for Kemp and Upshaw. Totally possible, but I would be a bit of a homer if I just assumed all of those things will go right for the Huskies.
If I'm wrong, Coach Romar will have officially rebounded all the way from the Stony Brook-induced slump to record the highest quality win of the season.
Utah 71, Washington 59