SALT LAKE CITY – The snow-capped hills encompassing Salt Lake City are dwarves compared to Mt. Rainier or any real mountain, although they similarly dominate the city’s skyline due to their close proximity, brushing up against houses on the outer edges of town.
They probably looked like Everest from the bottom of the hole the Washington State basketball team dug in the first half of its 81-63 loss at Utah. Though the teams were required to play out both halves of the game, it appeared to be over in minutes, before many of the crowd of 11,634 managed to take their seats.
Those late-comers were treated to a stress-free evening at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. The Utes, who scored only 46 points in their loss to the Cougars earlier this season, surged out to a 42-26 halftime lead.
Utah only outscored the Cougars by two in the second half, on cruise control while the clock ticked down to victory.
“They hit shots and it was just kind of hard to fight back,” D.J. Shelton said.
Utah’s bench was the star of the game. Brandon Taylor’s 16 points led the way as the team subbed liberally with six players, including two non-starters, scoring in double digits. They took advantage of poor defense from a team that can’t rely on its offense.
“At this point in the season we are who we are,” coach Ken Bone said. “If some guys have scored in the 20’s or 30’s and they’re doing it, it would be like “what’s going on?” But we have a number of guys who have struggled scoring this year.”
Bone shook things up at the half by starting freshman guard Ike Iroegbu in place of Royce Woolridge. After spending most of the year as one of WSU’s few reliable scorers and only distributor, Woolridge is averaging just 2.5 points over his last six games. Against Utah he did not score or record an assist in 18 minutes.
But Bone said that the reason for sitting Woolridge were tactical and not permanent.
“Royce had a couple fouls we wanted to come out and play really, really aggressive so I didn’t want to get in a situation where he got his third right away.”
The Utes held WSU to 39 percent shooting while making 53 percent.
“On their home court they play with a certain level of toughness and they pushed us around a little bit, got us out of our stuff early,” said DaVonte Lacy, who led the Cougars with 22 points.
Utah outrebounded WSU 36-29 and outscored the Cougars in the paint 42-18. Only Shelton was able to stand up to Utah’s bullying scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.