SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak often refers to the season as a marathon and not a sprint. That being the case, the Utes pretty much jogged — albeit at a good pace — through a 88-70 win over Washington State Saturday night in the Huntsman Center.
It didn’t take long for the Utes to overpower the short-handed Cougars.
After playing to an 11-11 tie, Utah pulled away with a 15-0 run. Parker Van Dyke and Riley Battin powered the decisive outburst with five points apiece. Washington State, playing without injured Pac-12 scoring leader Robert Franks (22.1 ppg), missed eight straight shots while being held scoreless for nearly five minutes.
“I think it all starts on the defensive end,” Van Dyke said. “When you play great defense and you cause some turnovers and things like that, it leads to easier offensive scores. And so when we have some really good intensity and we’re moving around and playing team defense collectively we can be pretty good.”
“I think we did a good job defensively — without a doubt. But, overall, we graded out real well, and then we were able to get out in transition.”
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak
The Cougars (7-9, 0-3) made just 22.6 percent (7 of 31) of their shots in the first half. The Pac-12’s top 3-point shooting team went 1-of-11 from beyond the arc over the first 20 minutes.
“I think we did a good job defensively — without a doubt,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who noted a few shortcomings like giving up nine offensive rebounds in the first half. “But, overall, we graded out real well, and then we were able to get out in transition.”
The Utes led 44-24 at the break. Both Gach led the way with 12 points, while Van Dyke added eight.
Utah was 15 of 31 from the field and 7 of 14 from 3-point range. The Utes held a 23-19 rebounding edge in the first half with Timmy Allen pulling down a game-high five boards. On the assist front, Sedrick Barefield topped everyone with four.
Numbers rose, as they always do, in the second half. Utah’s lead swelled to as high as 30 points and never dwindled below 15. The Utes outrebounded the Cougars 42-31 by game’s end. They also finished with advantages scoring in the paint (48-30), on fast breaks (18-3), second-chance opportunities (20-11) and production off the bench (34-27).
Allen finished with a team-high 15 points as the Utes improved to 8-8 overall and 2-2 in Pac-12 play. They wound up with six players scoring in double-figures. Gach (14), Battin (11), Charles Jones, Jr. (11), Barefield (10) and Van Dyke (10) joined Allen in doing so.
Krystkowiak acknowledged that balance is a key.
“About a month ago we talked about sharing the basketball and the willingness to make an extra pass and how contagious that is,” Krystkowiak said. “It allows you to set up your defense. I think we have made some pretty good advancements individually with sets and execution, but also just kind of the big picture.”
At the end of the day, Krystkowiak continued, the non-negotiable is the willingness to move it. He added that when the Utes move it, they are able to get a higher-percentage shot.
The win followed a 69-53 loss to Washington on Thursday.
“We had a rough one the other day, but we’re just trying to show how good we are at bouncing back and just show that we’re a team here in the Pac-12 and we’re coming for it all,” Allen said. “So we’ve got a lot to prove still. So a good bounce-back game for us.”
Utah is back in action Sunday, Jan. 20, at home against Colorado. Both the Utes and the Buffaloes will have eight days between games.
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