In a game that was about as competitive as the score would indicate, the No. 12 Utah Runnin' Utes ran past the WSU Cougars, 86-64 in Pac-12 play on Wednesday night.
The loss was the second in a row for WSU and dropped the Cougars to 3-3 in the conference and 9-9 overall.
Utah came into the game as overwhelming favorites, and the Cougars were able to only hang around for the first five minutes or so before the Utes found their legs in the wake of their tough loss to Arizona over the weekend. A jumper by Brandon Taylor gave Utah its first lead of the game at 11-10, and from there the Utes outscored the Cougars 37-17 in the rest of the half to take a commanding 46-27 lead into the break.
As was the case in getting down at the half to Oregon State on Saturday, the Cougars did themselves no favors with their shooting. Despite the game being played at the fairly fast pace they'd prefer -- there were 36 possessions in the first half when you'd expect the Utes to want to play around 30 -- the Cougars could not take advantage, scoring just 0.73 points per possession thanks to a 42.3 effective field goal percentage. It also didn't help that WSU turned it over on more than 20 percent of their possessions.
The Cougars tried to make it interesting in the second half by getting as hot from behind the arc as they were cold in the first half. They hit six of their first seven 3-point attempts, including a Brett Boese triple that closed the gap to 10 at 62-52 with 10:51 to go in the game.
But WSU was unable to string together many stops, thanks in large part to Ernie Kent's inexplicable decision to deploy a porous 2-3 zone against one of the best shooting teams in the country. The Utes came into the game hitting more than 40 percent of their 3s -- that's as a team; the Cougs have but one individual above that mark -- and they found a plethora of open looks against WSU.
Utah would hit 4 of 10 threes in the second half, which in turn served to open gaps that the Utes exploited for easy twos. After closing to 10 points, the Cougars were outscored by a dozen over the next 6:47 to put the game comfortably out of reach again.
DaVonte Lacy led the way with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, and Josh Hawkinson had yet another double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds (though he struggled from the floor at 3-of-10). Jordan Railey returned to the form he showed before the Oregon schools came to Pullman, scoring 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting with eight rebounds and five blocks, although his effectiveness was mitigated by four turnovers and 2-of-9 shooting from the free throw line. Boese also scored in double digits again with 11 points on the strength of three treys.
Taylor led the Utes with 18 points -- on just eight field goal attempts -- with seven assists.
While shooting was an issue for the Cougs, so was the turnover "battle." WSU didn't do any better job in the second half taking care of the ball, finishing by giving it away on nearly one-in-four possessions. Meanwhile, Utah turned it over just four times, or about 1 in 20 possessions.
When you combine that with WSU shooting 14-of-27 from the free throw line, the self-inflicted wounds didn't just make it impossible to win, it made it impossible to even keep the score close.
This game was always going to be tough for WSU to hang around, but an opportunity awaits on Saturday against Colorado. The Buffaloes are better than the Cougs, but certainly are beatable.