Joel Davidson, UteZone

Analysis: Utes hang on to beat Cougars

It wasn't pretty, but the Utes hung on to get the job done against Washington State...

The University of Utah men’s basketball team has absolutely dominated the Washington State Cougars over their last two meetings. The last two games have been decided by a combined 84 points. After being swept on the Bay Area road trip last week, the Utes hoped to beat up on an inferior Cougar team and restore their confidence. However, things Utah started the game in a lethargic manner and the game got away from them. After clawing their way back into the game, the Utes found themselves in a back and forth game.

With a solid performance in the final minutes, Utah was able to outlast Washington State 74-70 on Thursday night. With the win the Utes move to 16-8 (7-5) on the season.

Another Slow Start

Things seemed doomed from the start as Utah’s first two possessions consisted of a missed shot and a turnover from the leader of the team, Kyle Kuzma. In a matter of two minutes Utah would be 0-2, one turnover with David Collette picking up his first foul, and worse they were down 6-0. Utah had a hard time rotating defensively and the Cougars were able to get high percentage looks at the basket. Washington State made seven of their first 11 shots, while Utah struggled to hit 40% from the field. One of the biggest weakness of this team has been their ability to take care of the ball. The Cougars scored seven points off of Utah’s six turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game. Combine that with Utah missing four three pointers over that stretch and it was easy to understand how Utah found itself trailing 19-9.

Utah Wakes Up

Utah was desperate for a spark, desperate for something to breathe life back into the team. David Collette proved to be what they were looking for. Trying to make something happen, Kuzma attacked the hoop, but like the all of his first half attempts, he missed the mark. Lucky for Utah, Collette crashed the weak-side board hard and caught the ball off the rim and slammed the ball in against contact for a three point play.

Next trip down the court, Sedrick Barefield bedazzled the arena with a behind-the-back pass in traffic to Collette who once again attempted to bring down the basketball standard on a two handed jam. The crowd awoke and Utah began to play. Generally when Utah begins to get into a rhythm on offense, thinks pick up defensively as well. Over the next 9:03 Utah would hold the Cougars to 2-16 from the field. With Washington State stagnant, Utah began their attack.

Behind the 13 point first half performance from Collette, Utah would explode on a 25-4 run and take the lead. Despite missing all eight shots from beyond the arc, Utah was able to take a 35-29 lead into the locker room.

Cougars Claw Back

Just as Utah had a chance to put things away, they lost focus and let it slip through their fingers. Utah would hit a dry spell of over four minutes, over which they would miss four straight shots and turn the ball over twice. Washington State began to run the offense through their best player, Josh Hawkinson. Hawkinson hit two buckets in the paint, forcing Utah to pay more attention to him. With Utah on alert on the paint, things began to open up. The Cougars made four of their next six shots, to cap off a 10-0 run. With a regained confidence, Malachi Flynn drained a three point shot to give the Cougars their first second half lead with 4:57 remaining, 60-59.

Closing Strong

Going into Thursday’s game, Utah failed to win any of its three games that have been decided by less than five points. Usually a costly turnover, poor shot selection or a untimely mental error has kept Utah from being victorious. Against the Cougars, Utah would have another chance to prove that they could win down the stretch. The game was knotted at 62 points with just under four minutes remaining. Right as Utah entered clutch time, somehow Charles Callison found himself surprisingly unguarded, and drained a lead grabbing three after calmly setting his feet for the shot. It seemed Utah was on the same road of end of game defeats. This time Parker Van Dyke rose to the occasion. Soon after a layup from Collette, Devon Daniels attacked the paint and collapsed the Cougar defense, he then quickly found Van Dyke in the right corner for the three pointer which gave the lead back to Utah, 67-65.

The Cougars responded with a smooth post play from Hawkinson. Then fortunately for them, Kuzma would be whistled for an offensive foul on a rebound which put Flynn at the line with the chance to tie. After missing the second shot, Utah held on to the one point lead.

The critical score came on the next possession. Collette established himself square in the paint. With his back to the hoop he juked to the right, then quickly pinned to his left shoulder and found a clear path for a roll in at the front of the the rim. With the bucket, Utah had a 71-68 lead with 38,4 seconds left,

In a critical mistake, Ike Iroegbu passed up a chance for an equalizing three and stepped into a long two point jump shot. With his field goal still keeping them behind by one, the Cougars would be forced to foul Lorenzo Bonam with 19.6 seconds left. Like a seasoned senior, Bonam relaxed and made both free throw. Seconds later Van Dyke would go 1-1 from the line and give the Utes the 74-70 win.

Utah did turn the ball over two times, both on offensive fouls, over the last four minutes, but they also closed out by making four of their last field goal attempts as well as shooting 3-4 from the line.

Up Next

Utah will next attempt to finish the season sweep on the Washington schools when they face the Washington Huskies this Saturday at 2:30 PM MT. The Huskies come into Salt Lake riding a six game losing streak. The six defeats come by an average of 18 points. It is yet to be seen if Markelle Fultz will be available for the matchup. 

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