Utah (10-2, 1-0 in Pac-12) trailed by as much as six in the second half before they exposed the WSU (9-3, 0-1) zone defense with a barrage of threes to push past the Cougars. On the opposite end, WSU had a hard time breaking through Utah’s strong interior defense and struggled to get anything to fall outside of the paint, shooting 31.3% from the field and 24.3% in the second half alone.
WSU’s offense didn’t get off to a hot start either, missing their first six shots of the game and getting their first points on an Oscar Cluff free throw four and a half minutes in. The offense finally began to settle in with a Jaylen Wells triple to kick off a 9-6 run to pull the Cougs within four. Utah extended the lead back up to 10 with a handful of midrange buckets and taking advantage of a few Cougar turnovers. The Cougs responded with a 9-0 run, opened by a Jabe Mullins jumper and a closed with a Jaylen Wells trey to pull within a single point. Lawson Lovering ended the run with a layup, but a Kymany Houinsou fastbreak layup and a Isaac Jones ally-oop off a pass from Houinsou gave WSU their first lead of the game. The Utes closed the last three minutes of the half with a 7-4 run to retake the lead before the break.
As the teams jockeyed for the lead for the early second half lead, Cluff’s second midrange jumper of the ballgame ended up being the spark for the first run of the second half. Houinsou followed up on the next possession with a trey and Jones capped the 7-0 run with a fastbreak dunk to give WSU their largest lead of the game (6). With the lead, WSU switched into its infamous zone defense that the Utes quickly exploited.
Utah sharpshooter Gabe Madsen found the soft spot in the defense, sitting in the corner and knocking down back-to-back triples to help retake the lead. Madsen wouldn’t stop there, the senior guard splashed another pair of treys — with a pair of free throws mixed in — in a 10-0 Utah run to extend the lead and begin to put WSU in the danger zone of letting this one get out of hand. Wells knocked down his own pair of free throws to stop the run, but it became Rollie Worster’s turn to punish the WSU defense, with a personal 5-0 run before passing the torch to Braden Carlson for his own 5-0 run.
While WSU kept the game within arms reach, Utah dealt the final blow with a dominant 14-0 run in the closing five minutes anchored by 12 of those points coming from Carlson and Keba Keita.
The Utes missed all six of their three-point attempts in the first half, but turned things around and went 7/11 on their distance shots in the second. On the other end, the Cougs hit 4/20 three attempts, including 2/12 in the second half alone.
WSU will hope to salvage the mountain road trip on Sunday and ring out the new year with a win in Boulder against the Colorado Buffaloes.