For everything the Washington Huskies did right at Hec Edmundson Pavilion Saturday night, they twice went blank. In a 94-72 loss to Utah in front of a claimed crowd of 8,895 (box), a dismal four-minute drought midway through the first half allowed the Utes to pull away, while a similar drought late in the second put the game out of question.
“I felt like we were making progress,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Tonight was kind of an exam. We failed the exam. We took some steps backwards defensively.
“The air came out of the balloon tonight against a team that if you’re going to get burned, they’re going to make you pay for it.”
Utah (14-5, 5-3 Pac-12) bullied the Huskies in the first half, scoring 28 of their 53 points in the paint. As Washington (9-10, 2-5 Pac-12), playing without injured post man Malik Dime, pulled in to shore up the interior, the Utes lit up the perimeter. They scored on five of seven three-point attempts to build a 17-point with 2:26 to play in the half.
Foul trouble crippled the Huskies. Sophomore forward Noah Dickerson picked up his third foul with under five minutes to play in the first half, limiting his game to 19 minutes.
The Huskies had no answer for the size of the Utes, who finished with a 60-24 advantage on points in the paint. In the second half, Washington scored four points in the paint.
The Utes were paced by Lorenzo Bonam and Devon Daniels, who poured in 24 each. Kyle Kuzma added a double-double with 22 points and 15 rebounds.
“60 points-in-the-paint worth of mistakes,” Romar said. “You look at their team, it wasn’t like those 60 points came from their bigs. They did a good job of getting to the ri, regardless. We could have done a better job attacking the basket.
“Markelle (Fultz) obviously does, but as a group we could have done a better job.”
Fultz continued to outplay everyone on the court. The freshman guard recorded a game-high 30 points off 10-of-18 shooting, with seven rebounds and four assists. Fultz was the game’s top scorer for the sixth time in a loss this season, the fifth in which he had 25 or more.
The Pac-12’s leading scorer (23.4 points per game) is working on being an emotional leader as well as a statistical one.
“I’m trying to lead by example. Play hard, try to do my best, even though I make mistakes,” Fultz said. “I’m a point guard, you’ve got to be a leader.”
Romar praised his star’s efforts, adding that the rest of the program needed to emulate him.
“Markelle is superman out there at times,” Romar said. “There’s a lot on show. Sometimes we take what he does for granted. We expect him to solve every problem. We can’t do that. We all have to step up, teammates, coaches, all of us have to step and try to lead.”
The defensive lapses continued. Washington fought back, with Fultz sinking a three to bring the Huskies within eight points with 10:31 to play. The Utes responded with a 10-0 run over the next five minutes, while Washington went zero-for-seven from the field and committed two turnovers.
“Our team right now, if certain things don’t go our way, we don’t have the wherewithal to stick to it,” Romar said. “We made our run, shots start going in, but we have to get over the mental hurdle, when things don’t go our way, to stay steady. That’s what veteran teams do.”
One of the loudest cheers of the evening was reserved for Washington recruit Blake Harris, who signed with the Huskies July 11 from Word of God Christian Academy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He showed up on the big screen during a timeout.
Harris either left Hec Ed confident that he’ll immediately break into the starting lineup next season, or he sprinted for the airport, screaming.