Who would have thought coming into the beginning of PAC 12 play that the matchup of Mike Hopkins’s Washington Huskies and Larry Krystowiak’s Utah Runnin’ Utes would be one pairing last place teams in the conference? Such was the case on Thursday night as Washington (12-8) dropped an ugly one to Utah (11-7).
The Utes and the Huskies won 20 games between the two of them during the out of conference portion of their schedules only to post a combined 3-8 combined conference record coming into their matchup. Utah was in particular dire straits having lost four in a row for the first time in three seasons. Their win helped them to end that streak while dropping Washington into last place in the conference.
Washington, still trying to find their way offensively especially since the loss of Quade Green to academic ineligibility, struggled coming out of the gate. The first five minutes of the game saw UW score just four points with exactly zero shot attempts for star Isaiah Stewart. The Dawgs did balance out their lethargic offense with a ton of energy on defense playing primarily in their patented 2-3 zone. Coach Mike Hopkins fueled that defensive energy with a constant rotation of bench players that saw Elijah Hardy, Marcus Tsohonis, RaeQuan Battle and Sam Timmins each get into the game early. That churn of players seemed to really tax the offense as the Huskies finished the first half with just 28 points.
The second half saw more of the same as Utah tried to emphasize forward Riley Battin (17 points) in hopes of conquering the UW zone. That was met with limited success. Washington’s defense continued to make it difficult for Utah to score. Tip of the cap to Jaden McDaniels (2 blocks) and Naz Carter (3 steals) who each stepped up defensively through much of the game.
Washington showed signs of pulling away around the 10 minute mark of the second half when a McDaniels three - his first of two big ones at that point of the game - gave UW its first double-digit lead. But, as has been the case with UW for much of he season, their second half defense seemed to soften in the last five minutes. Ute guards Rylan Jones - who was shut down until this point - and Timmy Allen helped to pull the Utes within five points with four minutes to play.
The game got even more interesting when Jaden McDaniels committed a flagrant-1 foul on a dead ball with 2:32 on the clock. That foul led to a total of four Utah foul shots and the ball back. That last possession then turned into McDaniels foul on a Rylan Jones three point attempt resulting in McDaniels’s disqualification and three more free throws. When it was all said and done, Utah had the game within one point at 62-61.
An Isaiah Stewart hook shot and a pair of RaeQuan Battle free throws shifted the advantage back to UW momentarily. But a continued inability to get the ball into Stewart on the offensive end resulted in a poor shot for Naz Carter and a blocking foul on Jones on the other end. The resulting free throws gave Utah a one point lead with 14.1 seconds left.
Washington could do nothing with their final possession. Elijah Hardy brought the ball up the court and after a few passes around the perimeter with no attempt to get the ball into Stewart, Jamal Bey was called for an offensive foul giving Utah the game.
- The UW zone was effective tonight, particularly in the first half when it held Utah to just 30% shooting and 24 points. To put it in perspective, Utah finished just 3-24 from three point range.
- Part of the issue with UW’s offense tonight was their inability to get the ball into Stewart on a regular basis. This issue showed up not just in Stewart’s modest scoring stats (13 points) but also at the free throw line. The Huskies attempted only 14 shots from the charity stripe and only two attempts for Stewart.
- Marcus Tsohonis continues to perform reasonably well given the circumstances. While he struggled in initiating the offense, he was efficient and took care of the ball with 8 points on three of four shooting and just one turnover.
- Much maligned UW forward Hameir Wright provided UW with a little spark in what was a painful first half. He hit a couple of threes to help UW stakeout a four point first half lead. He would hit another pair in the second half and finish the game with 12 points
- Nate Roberts was noticeably absent from the rotation tonight. He did not appear in the game.
- Offensive rebounds were a problem again for UW as Utah was able to corral 18 of them on the night. Strangely, the Utes were only able to convert those into 10 second chance points.
- For those of you wondering about how this might affect UW’s NCAA tournament odds, let’s just say that Mike Hopkins growing a mohawk is more likely at this point.