Runnin’ Utes Fall Flat Down the Stretch, Suffer Comeback Defeat to Huskies

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Xiangyao Tang

University of Utah men’s basketball player Branden Carlson plays against BYU Cougars in Jon M. Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday Nov. 27, 2021. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Ethan Pearce, Assistant Sports Editor

 

The University of Utah men’s basketball team suffered a disappointing loss on Thursday evening against the Washington Huskies. Utah built a 14-point lead in the second half before giving it all back and ultimately lost their third straight game. They’re 8-7 on the year, and only 1-4 in Pac-12 play.

Dusan Mahorcic made his return to the Utes’ lineup after being out since November with a knee injury. His return immediately made an impact. Mahorcic is a great passing big man with a knack for keeping the ball moving. He quickly made a few nice passes to get the offense out of a rut midway through the first half.

Utah continued to struggle with turnovers in this game, as has been a problem all season for them. Unforced errors are game-losers, and it was a big reason why the first half was as close as it was. All the turnovers gave Washington a ton of extra chances and fast-break opportunities. Washington had only five in the first half to Utah’s 11, the most back-breaking of which was right before halftime to set up a three from the Huskies. Rather than being up seven with a chance to score at the buzzer, the lead was only four going into the locker room. Utah finished the game with 19 turnovers.

“We might have to go to some drastic lengths … (turnovers) happen in so many different ways: high-low passes coming out of the post, overdribbling, overpassing, tipping deflections,” said head coach Craig Smith. “We’ve gotta look at that.”

Utah built a double-digit lead in the second half, but a cold offensive stretch allowed Washington back into the game. It was a one-point difference with about eight minutes left to play. Utah allowed multiple open three pointers as the Huskies roared back and eventually took the lead at 65-59 with 4:30 to go.

Washington’s Cole Bajema was left open far too many times from outside, and made the Utes pay, hitting five out of his eight three-point attempts for 15 points. Utah’s defense didn’t adjust to Bajema’s hot shooting night, and that was ultimately the reason for the big comeback.

Utah attempted a late comeback, but they fell short. They couldn’t quite get over the hump and ran out of gas at the very end, as has been the case in multiple losses this season. The final score was 74-68.

David Jenkins Jr. and Both Gach were held scoreless. Neither got involved much on offense, and that’s a recipe for failure for the Utes. Other guys picked up the slack, but it wasn’t enough. Utah had five guys in double figures, including a 12-point night from Gabe Madsen on four-for-five from three.

Utah will face Washington State on Saturday afternoon, 4 p.m. MST at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

 

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