SALT LAKE CITY – The Washington men’s basketball team began the second half of the Pac-12 season much like it played the second half of Thursday’s game at Utah – with a thud.
For the second straight game, the Huskies were undone by a late-game meltdown during which they were incapable of stopping the opponent from scoring while simultaneously being unable to muster any points.
“Sometimes when we see that ball not go in the basket, I think it affects us on the defensive end,” coach Lorenzo Romar said after a 78-69 defeat. “We have to be mentally tougher.”
The Huskies are a confused team. The high-post offense has stalled in consecutive games. And the reconstructed defense that had been the root of UW’s 6-5 start has once again broken down.
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“We thought we had the defensive thing squared away … and we’ve taken a couple of steps backward in that regard,” Romar said. “Like we were saying when we were in that predicament before we have to fix it and we got to fix it. That has been a pattern.”
Still, blowing games in the second half is the most recent trend that’s plagued the Huskies.
It happened last Saturday during a 72-67 loss at Washington State, in which the Huskies were victim to a 24-5 second-half WSU run. During the nine-minute spurt, Washington shot 1 for 12 from the field.
On Thursday it happened again.
Tied 51-51 with 11:41 left, Utah went on an 11-0 run to take control of the game.
The spurt came without warning.
Andrew Andrews, who missed 11 of 12 shots, misfired on a jumper and a three-pointer while Nigel Williams-Goss committed a turnover.
At the other end, Princeton Onwas converted a putback. Then C.J. Wilcox and Andrews missed three-pointers while Utes guard Delon Wright scored on a layup and free throw.
Williams-Goss missed another three and Wilcox blew a layup. Wright, Onwas and Jordan Loveridge combined for four free throws.
Then Wright stole a pass from Williams-Goss and raced ahead for a two-hand dunk that capped the run and put the Utes up 62-51 with 5:52 remaining.
During the spurt, Washington was 0 for 6 while Utah was 3 for 5 from the field and 4 of 6 on free throws.
“That’s my job to try to stop runs like that, but at the same time they’re keying on me pretty well so it’s tough to get the good looks that I like or that I want or even get the ball,” said Wilcox, who led Washington with 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting. “We have guys that are capable of making plays. We just weren’t making shots tonight.” The Huskies closed to within four points with 1:56 left after Desmond Simmons made a layup.
On the ensuing possession, Brendan Taylor drained a three-pointer over Williams-Goss that brought the crowd of 12,226 at Huntsman Center on their feet and extended Utah’s lead to 70-63 with 1:24 remaining.
Washington never got any closer the rest of the way.
“I don’t know if we ran out of gas or whatever it was,” Romar said. “We had a couple of guys that couldn’t practice the last two days because of injuries and I don’t know if down the stretch we just didn’t have a whole lot left.” Despite a hip injury, Williams-Goss scored 12 of his 19 points in the second half while Andrews (ankle) missed 11 of 12 shots. Both logged 35 minutes.
Washington also received 14 points from Simmons, who made his first start this season in place of Mike Anderson.
“They came out in the second half and really outplayed us,” Romar said. “We had a poor defensive effort in the second half and they made us pay for it.” Taylor finished with 20 points and Wright had 19. Jordan Loveridge added 16 points for the Utes (15-7, 4-6 Pac-12).
Utah shot 50 percent in the first half and 68 percent in the second.
“I don’t know, I can’t explain that,” Wilcox said when asked about the second-half troubles. “It’s just something that happens. It’s been happening a lot to us lately. I don’t know if it’s just our legs dying down late in games or not.”
Washington finishes its Rocky Mountain road trip 5 p.m. Sunday at Colorado (17-6, 6-4).
“It’s big,” Wilcox said. “We definitely got to leave out of here with a split to be feeling better about things.”
• Wilcox (1,749) moved past Todd MacCulloch (1,743) into fifth place on Washington’s all-time scoring list. Next up: Bob Houbregs, who has 1,774 points.