SALT LAKE CITY - Brock Motum couldn’t stop shaking his head after Washington State’s most embarrassing loss of the season.
Forget his career-high-tying 27 points. Forget the fact that he almost single-handedly kept his team in the game in the first half. Instead, remember these words spoken by the 6-foot-10 forward as he shook his head outside WSU’s locker room following a 62-60 overtime loss to Utah on Thursday night.
“Our team, I think we just need … I don’t want to say be more ready for games, but I just think we need to have the mindset of just killing the other team from the start, other than easing into it then deciding OK, we need to step up,” Motum said of the Cougars (9-6, 1-2 Pac-12), who squandered leads of six and five points in the final minutes of regulation. “We need to initiate the first blow, hit them first. Punch them when they’re down instead of just engaging in the fight when it’s back and forth, back and forth.”
The back-and-forth play of which Motum spoke came to a halt when Utes guard Josh Watkins rolled in a short jumper with 3.3 seconds remaining in overtime to lift Utah (4-10, 1-1 Pac-12) – a 12.5-point underdog – to an improbable initial Pac-12 win.
But it would be ignorant to call Watkins’ shot a game-winner, because the Cougars lost this one in so many other ways.
There were the eight turnovers in the first half, a period in which WSU produced a season-low 23 points to trail by six at halftime. There were the 12 missed free throws in 22 attempts, the 47.3 field-goal percentage allowed to a Utah team ranked near the bottom of the country in scoring offense. And there were the myriad open looks afforded to Utah’s shooters by WSU’s zone defense, which coach Ken Bone said wasn’t as active as it was in Saturday’s win over Oregon State.
“I think we have a great group of kids, and there’s times that can hurt you,” Bone said, referring to the good-natured composition of his players. “I’m not sure we have that killer instinct that we need to compete. We’ve got to get that if we’re going to win consistently.”
Yet Motum sparked a second-half turnaround that gave the Cougars a lead as large as eight points with 9 minutes, 22 seconds to play.
And though Utah cut it to three, Reggie Moore converted a three-point play to push WSU’s lead to six with 3:39 to remaining. But Utah’s Dijon Farr immediately answered with a 3-pointer, the first in a series of stops the Cougars needed and didn’t get.
Motum made a pair of free throws a minute later. But Cedric Martin answered with another three to trim WSU’s lead to two.
Motum missed a shot in the lane. Marcus Capers missed a 3-pointer.
And Watkins, who led the Utes with 20 points, made a jumper to tie the game with 17.3 seconds to play.
Moore’s pull-up attempt missed at the buzzer, and after the teams traded blows in overtime, Watkins maneuvered into the key, received a friendly bounce and gave the Utes a shocking first conference win. DaVonte Lacy dribbled the ball out of bounds following a timeout to seal it.
“We had a poor first 20 minutes and when you’re playing a team on the road, you can’t give them any hope,” Bone said. “You can’t give them any hope when you have them down.”