PULLMAN – School was canceled at Washington State on Wednesday. Pity the Cougars that the snow and ice were not enough to prevent their game against Utah.
At least there was one learning experience in Pullman.
An understaffed Utah team still outmanned the Cougars during a clinical 88-47 loss Wednesday evening. As has often been the case during WSU’s bad losses, lethargy seemed to be the primary reason for their suboptimal performance.
“We know exactly what we need to do. This team is all about effort,” senior forward Josh Hawkinson said. “We can tell in the first 5 minutes of every game whether we’re going to come prepared and ready to play or we’re just going to lay over and let the other team do whatever they want to do.
“It seems like every time we miss a couple shots to start the beginning of the game, the other team makes a big run and we get behind and lack the intensity we need to get back in these games.”
None of WSU’s players was alive the last time the Cougars lost a home game by 40 points – Jan. 14, 1989, against Stanford.
“I was flat, the staff was flat, team played flat,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. “The only thing positive about the game, and it’s unfortunate, for these students and this community to brave the elements and come to this arena. I thought that was the best crowd we had in a long time, just in terms of numbers (2,928 in attendance despite conditions that caused WSU to cancel classes on Wednesday).
Though the Utes (13-5, 4-2 Pac-12) are unranked, four of their losses have come to ranked teams and all have been by 10 points or less.
Even without leading scorer David Collette, who missed the trip with a concussion, the Utes handily took a commanding lead early in the game. But Utah has six players including Collette who average double-digit scoring, and easily absorbed his absence.
In this case, it was the experienced duo of Kyle Kuzma and Lorenzo Bonam who paced the Utes. Bonam and Kuzma had 19 and 17 points, respectively, while combining to make 13 of 20 field-goal attempts and 3 of 5 from behind the arc.
While Utah is one of the nation’s best teams at scoring in the paint, and ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 with a 50.8 field-goal percentage, WSU’s defense was particularly ineffective.
The Utes, without their best scorer, shot 57.9 percent from the field and had 20 layups or dunks, despite not giving up any points in transition.
The Cougars were outrebounded 45-26.
“Well, the reality is that Washington State does a lot of things well, but the rebounding is not one of those categories,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “If you’re going to lose your center, you’ve got a chance in that game as opposed to some of the games where you need that body. Hawkinson’s a load rebounding-wise, but team-wise they’re in the 300s or something in terms of rebounding. It would’ve been a shame had we not had a significant rebounding advantage in this game.”
Kent quickly began using the game to experiment in hopes of finding some energy – freshman walk-on guard Steven Shpreyregin played eight minutes in the first half despite having played just 13 minutes all season.
Utah led 11-2 just 4 minutes into the game and used as 12-2 run late in the half to create a comfy cushion of 43-24 at the end of the first half. The Cougars were unsuccessful inside and outside against the stout Utah defense and finished the first half having made neither a 3-pointer nor a free throw.
From there game devolved into the sort of blowout where one team feels free to have fun and the other simply wants it to end. Gabe Bealer’s one-handed alley-oop dunk off an inbound pass from Bonam was Utah’s highlight.
The Cougars (9-9, 2-4) have lost their last four games and the momentum from their 2-0 start to conference play, and have given up at least 1.0 points per possession in each of those losses, and at least 1.2 points per possession in three of them. Those same three losses (Oregon, Stanford and Utah) all came by 19 or more points.
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