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WSU drops fourth in a row with 71-56 loss to Utah

This season is heading south in a hurry.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars continue to struggle as yet another poor defensive performance led to yet another game that was over before halftime, a 71-56 loss to the Utah Utes in Pullman.

It’s the fourth consecutive loss for the Cougs, who drop to 9-5 overall and 2-5 in the Pac-12. Utah, which snapped a road losing streak in the double digits, improved to 6-6 and 3-5.

Until recently, defense had been the Cougars’ calling card, sporting a dominant interior presence that powered one of the top 2-point defenses in the country. But WSU once again came out of the gates unprepared for what the opponents were going to do, leading to the third consecutive game in which the game was more or less lost by halftime.

The Utes used ball screens to great effect, finding gaps all over the place as WSU struggled mightily to lock down their rotation assignments. Utah shot 15-of-20 on 2s in the first half, very few of them even really contested.

Meanwhile, WSU’s offense didn’t fare much better, largely because Isaac Bonton couldn’t locate the superhero cape he’d been wearing for a few weeks — he was just 1-of-4 in the first half with 3 turnovers. It all added up to a 17-point deficit heading into the break, 43-26, and the game was already lost.

The defense did perk up a bit in the second half, allowing just 28 points and 7-of-17 on 2s, which is something Smith will surely try to build on; however, the offense really couldn’t find any answers at all, keeping the Cougs from making any headway in closing the gap. Bonton, who had been so steady for about a half dozen games reverted back to the sort of play that has infuriated fans at times, forcing shots deep into the lane. He finished with just four points on 1-of-8 shooting with four turnovers.

Noah Williams led the team with 17 points, while Efe Abogidi chipped in 12. They were the only Cougs in double figures.

WSU will next be in action on Saturday when the Cougs host Colorado.